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Full text of "Elephant and Castle, a reconstruction"

UNIVERSITY 


OF FLORIDA 


LIBRARIES 


A 


^<JMB>^ 


COLLEGE UBRARY 


UNIVERSITY COLLEGE 



A Report hy 
Clifton Fadiinan 




by R. C. Hutcliiusoii 

couAiN iiNG our iiienibers with 
this remarkable no\cl b\- one 
of England's most remarka1:)le no\'- 
elists IS perhaps the most ticklish task 
your reMewer has faced during his en- 
tire ser\ice with the Book-of-the-Month 
Club. He would ha\'e encountered as 
knotty a prol^lem had it been his dutv 
to re\iew in a scant thousand words 
an imaginary new n()\cl combining 
some of the best — and, doubtless, some 
of the less good — features of Bhak 
House, Crime nud Piuushinent, and 
any first-rate grish" shocker \ou may 
care to name. 

The front matter of Elephant and 
Castle lists, as comprising the 'Teople 
in This Book," something under one 
hundred names. Kach of these names 
represents a human bcnig, each \\\[\\ 
his own N'oice and m()\ ement, each set 
before us in all his depth and anima- 
tion. 

EIep/)anf nud Castle is at once a 
melodrama of crime and i:)unishmcnt: 




a ps\'chological stud^ of a woman who 
is both appealing and a])pallmg; a so- 
cial no\cl m which are juxtaposed and 
contrasted two worlds— London's rare- 
fied 2;entr\- and its swannni£^. murky 
East End; a portrait gallcr\ of low-life 
grotesques, Hogarthian m humor and 
in power; and, finallw a C^luistian 
nONcl, cmbod\ing the ancient and en- 
during gospel of lo\c. 

This is R. C. IlutchinsonN ninth 
no\cl. It is also, in the 0]:)inuMi ot \onr 
lulitorial Board, his best. I'urthcvmorc. 
in their opinion, it hnnh establishes 
the author amons^ kaif^lantl's tnicst w lit- 
ers. '^ ct it is rccomincndcd to mhi, 
not mcvch" because \ou ma\ wish to 
become acciuaintcd with a major litcr- 
ar\- hi:urc but because it is a m.iiznif- 
icent and welcome throwback to a 
form of stor\ tcllin^: rave in mir daw 
Jlcphijut and C.jstle has a dense, tas- 




ciiiatiiig Plot (not to speak of several 
sub-plots ) and it has, in profusion, 
People. Plot and People — these are the 
\irtues of the nineteenth eentury novel 
—the no\el of Dickens and Balzac— 
rather than that of our own day. For 
all its faults— and it has faults of melo- 
drama and over-complication — Ele- 
phant and Castle seems less a book 
than a world. Into this world the 
reader is led with great, perhaps too 
great, deliberation. But once you are 
in its seething centre, vou are there 
for good, vou cannot extricate vourself. 
That sensation of being "lost" in a 
storv comes often to children, infre- 
c[ucnth- to grown-ups. The secret of 
creating it belongs to Mr. Hutchinson 
—and to not very many other living 
noxclists. 

The narrati\'c begins simplv, with a 
letter from a ncws]oa]:)cr reporter to 
the author. It describes the "Mickett 
Lane affair," ap])arentlv a sordid case 
of murder, committed in a house in a 
London semi-slum. The reporter con- 
cludes his c\'nical rcj^ort with this state- 
ment: "The fact is that the ]:)artics in- 



\ ol\ ed were e\identh- ^'er^' ordinarv and 
\ery dull parties. The crime was a \ul- 
gar crime, inspired by some common- 
place moti\e, \^'hich except for the pro- 
tagonists had no meaning at all." By 
the time you have finished this 655- 
page no\el, you are persuaded, I think, 
that CNCry word of this statement is un- 
true. 

The period is that between the two 
great \^'ars. Hardly more than a \'ague 
rumor from the outside, so bus\- mak- 
ing wholesale history and preparing for 
wholesale murder, filters into this busv, 
self-contained world of Lambeth and 
its strange populace. 

Armorel Cepinnier, twentv-two, 
beautiful, well-bred, restless, is the in- 
heritor of a family tradition of \irtuous 
social endea\'or. She has just been frus- 
trated in her first love affair. Perhaps 
it is this defeat, administered to a 
strong and dominating character, that 
drives her to take an excessi\e interest 
in a young workingman, Gian Ardree. 
Armorel witnesses Gian's involvement 
in a street brawl. He is accused (un- 
justly, as Armorel thinks) of assaulting 
a constable. Now, Armorel is a "good" 
woman. That is, she is con\inced that 
all her actions spring from a pure love 
of justice. It is one of the special sub- 
tleties of this book that at first the 
reader takes the same \iew of Armorel. 
She has charm, abilit\', character — ap- 
parcntlv all the \irtues. But, as we are 
onlv slowh' to find out, thc\- co\er an 
underworld of dark and tangled mo- 
tives. 

ArmorePs passion for Gian leads her 
to ]:)ursue him till at last, in a scene of 
high humor and grotesquerie, she mar- 
ries him, ostensibh' in order to raise 
him to her le\el, but actualh- to re- 
lease upon him the terrible dri\e of her 
personal im]:)erialism. Thus, ^^'ith the 



acconiplisliiiiciit of this strange union 
between a liigli-l)recl young woman and 
an inartieulate, seemingly almost brut- 
ish street l:)oy, is the base laid on whieli 
is ereetcd a eomplex baroque edifiee of 
narrative. Part of this edifiee is the 
tortured, woman- hating, soeial worker 
Trevon Grist, who might have been 
eoneened by l^ostoevsky. Part of it is 
the lovely and saint-like Elizabeth Kin- 
fo^^'ell f'A finished work; you eould 
not imagine. there were experienees left 
to deepen her maturity.") Part of it 
are Gian's mother— a great eharacter is 
Maria Ardree— and his father, through 
whose instrumentalitv the final dread- 
ful tragedy eomes about. 

'I'o reveal more of the plot would be 
unfair — and also difEeult, for it is 
highlv involved, perhaps exeessivelv so, 
and engages the full attention of the 
reader. 

The eenter of the story lies in the 
seemingly absurd marriage of Gian and 
Armorel. At first reading it appears a 
highly implausible situation; but Mr. 
Hutehinson's eunning— what a pleasure 
to read a novelist who is also a erafts- 
man!— has seen to its eredibilitv. Still, 
^'Ou will have to read the whole book 
first before the strange reasons for this 
misallianee at last beeome elear. All 
the melodramatie shifts of incident are 
seen, ^^'hen the reader looks baek, to 
be ine\ ita'ble. In this respect Klcphnut 
and Cast/e is as carcfullv constructed 
as a fine detecti\e-story— which in a 
wav it resembles. 

Well, I see I ha\e done poorlw as I 
feared T ^^'Ould, bv this complex book. 
I ha\e gi\en ^ou no idea of its hi^^h 
humor, of its extraordinar\- atmosphere, 
of the Dutch precision of its descri]-)ti\ c 
detail, of its recreation of the pullulat- 
ing life of London's streets and law- 
courts and sordid tenements, lu^hind 



wlujse gnni\ facades work so much 
exuberant life. 

All these cjualitics, however, are less 
notaljle than \h-. Ilntclnnsoirs al)ilit\ 
to create character in the grand and 
siin])le manner of the great nineteenth 
century noxclists. Here are lY'ople — 
not S)mbols or masks or \^•alking ]:)ro- 
jections of the author's own ideas. 
Here arc People, studied in all tlieir 
pu/,/ling wa\\\ardness and wretched- 
ness and nol)ilit\ . i\rmorcl and Mrs. 
Ardree and Gian Ardree and Magis- 
trate Cuddisli and 1'rc\r)ii Grist and 
the \\-onderful Sergeant Mock and the 
hunchback Dais\' and the star-crossed 
lo\ing children, Antonia and Michael. 
— all these, and almost a liundrcd 
more, are real and warm and ]3itiful. 

Thev become part of \-our world of 
acquaintance, as so few of the charac- 
ters in modern noxels do. Here, at 
last, is a storv the reader seems to li\c 
through; here are people he seems to 
li\e ^^•ith. That is our basic reason for 
choosing Elephant and Castle, as it is 
the reason for our high hope that \ on 
will enjo\- it as much as we did. 




R. C. Hutchinson: ''A Novelist's Job 
Is a Full-Time Job'' 



L\ST SEPTEMBER 1 8, at about 10:00 p.m., 
iJlay Hutchinson emerged from customs at 
LaGuardia P'ield rearing, among other things, 
a slight stoop, a mustache, a smile and a 
British warm — something rather like an old- 
style trench coat, but too heavy for a Sep- 
tember night in New York. 

Before this indefatigable man returned to 
England t\^•o \\eeks later, he had seen and en- 
joyed more of New York than the average 
resident sees in his lifetime. His first da}' on 
American soil \\as supposed to ha\e been de- 
voted to rest in his rooms at the Harvard 
Clul). Instead, he wrote his \^•Ife a long let- 
ter, uent to church, found for himself the 
boats which circle Manhattan, and cased the 
Island. He also walked all o\er the mid-town 
;irca, and talked with many strangers. Hutch- 
inson is one of those shy 'Britishers who end 
up meeting more people and doing more 
things than the most brash Rotarian. 

Born 41 years ago into comfortable circum- 
stances in a London suburb, he attended 
school at Monkton Combe, where for three 
^ears he was homesick — a malad\' he still suf- 
fers. Later at Oxford, his homesickness eased 
a bit; but he "wasted his time," (although 
one short story he wrote there was in O'Brien's 
Best British Short Stories for 1928). He 
thinks the best thing he did at Oxford was 
to court Margaret Jones, whom he married in 
K)2g. 

^ After Oxford. Hutchinson worked for the 
C:c)lman mustard people, and reliexed the mon- 
otony by writing "the most excruciatingh- 
naive no\cl" he e\er read: Thou Unst a Devi]. 
and acting in a local theater. His second 
after-hours novel was refused "b\- nearl\- e\er\- 
pnl^lisher in tlie British Isles." 




After fi\e published 
novels, he established him 
self as one ^^■ith something; 
to say m fiction, and re- 
tired from actne business 
to become a full-time no^•- 
elist. He and his famih 
mo\ed into a house an 
hour from London with 
the \ery British address of 
Triggs, Crondall, Larn 
ham, Surrey. Part of the 
house (including Hutchin- 
son's study] goes back to the i6tli Centuiv. 
and there he expects to remain, until time 
lunneth out, with his singularly dexoted fam- 
ily — which includes four children, two bows, 
two girls, ranging currently from 1- down.' 

Hutchinson says his life "is all negati\es: I 
was not one of fourteen children born to an 
impoAcrished knifegrinder. nor did I spend 
niv childhood in the Australian bush. I ha\c 
ue\er rounded up cattle in Arizona or been .1 
schoolmaster in Dundee or a police court re- 
porter in Cape Town or an elexator man in 
Pittsburgh. In fact, I ha\e done none of the 
things that e\er\- self-respecting writer has 
done as a matter of course. I am simph- a 
standard English bourgeois who has written n 
few books. I can justifx- this state of affairs 
only by giving the opinion — it is nothing 
more — that a no\elist's job is a whole time 
job in itself: that a bod\- who wants to pro 
duce novels must teach himself to write a^ 
]:)cst he can fno one else can teach him^ and 
then get on with it — asain. as best he can." 
That is the man who has written a book 
which some consider to mark a renaissance 
in England's literature. jo„^- Set.by 



BOOK-OF-THE-l\IONTII CLUB, Iv 

•^//.T Madison \vvnui' . Yr?*; Yorh 17. N. Y. 



Printed in U.S.A. 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS IVIembers and Sloan Foundation 



http://archive.org/details/elephantcastlerOOhutc 



ELEPHANT 

AMD 

CASTLE 



Books by R, C, Hutchinson 

THE ANSWERING GLORY 

THE UNFORGOTTEN PRISONER 

ONE LIGHT BURNING 

SHINING SCABBARD 

TESTAMENT 

THE FIRE AND THE WOOD 

INTERIM 

ELEPHANT AND CASTLE 



ELEPHANT 

AND 

CASTLE 



A RECONSTRUCTION 

hy 

R. C. Hutchinson 



RIKEHART ij COMPANY, INC, 
NEW YORK TORONTO 




COPYRIGHT, 1949, BY R, C. HUTCHINSON 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 

BY KINGSPORT PRESS, INC., KINGSPORT, TENNESSEE 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 



For M. M. from M and R 



^ 



^' 



4 
t 



\ 



^ 



People in This Book 



Armorel Cepinnier. (Sometimes called 'Rellie,' 'Susie/ or 'Sue.') 
Her aunts, Edith and Georgina Cepinnier. ('Edie' and 'Georgie.') 
Her grandmother, Gertrude Cepinnier. 

Her sister, Christine ('Chrissy'), married to Everard Liske. 
Her cousin, Raymond. (Sometimes revealed as the narrator.) 
Her mother, Irene. 

Deceased Persons mentioned: 
Her great-grandmother, Dorothea Truggett. 
Her grandfather, Lawrence Cepinnier. 
Her father, Arthur Cepinnier. 

Her former fiance. Captain Gordon Aquillard. 

Her friend 'Duffy' (Dorothy Elwin, afterwards Mrs Filliard). 

Elizabeth Kinfowell (friend of Duffy). 

Gian Ardree. ('Toughie.') 
His parents, Simon and Maria Ardree. 
His sister Rosie, married to Ed Hugg. 
Mr Olleroyd, lodger with the Ardrees. 

Trevon Grist, Warden of Hollysian House Boys' Club, 
Sergeant Flock, Instructor and Factotum at the Club. 
'Slimey', Carpenter at the Club. 

Daise Empire 

Her parents, Charlie and Matilda Empire. 

vii 



Armorers daughter, Antonia ('Tonie'). 
Her son, Gordon. 
Elizabeth's son, Michael. 



Mr Cuddish, Stipendiary Magistrate (later "i at the Damien Street 

Mr Justice Cuddish) j Magistrate's Court. 

Mr Housencroft, Solicitor 

Mr Cleward, Solicitor ) ^ , 

o TT7 TA TiT-r. /London personages. 

Sir Walter Dibel, M.P. j ^ ^ 

Colonel Dewip, Deputy Governor of Spenwick Prison. 

Nurse Wimple, at the Old Brompton Hospital. 

Ormison \ 

The Fidgley Brothers f _ , _, , 

^ ^, )Boys at the Club. 

Terence Hubbitt i 

'Nibbley' Toms / 

Mrs Inch, an elderly woman of no fixed abode. 

Mr Time Heald, owner of Begbie's Store in Mickett Lane. 

James Ardree, brother of Simon. 

Daphne Steaben (afterwards Mrs Scobaird), 

school friend of Armorel. , ^ ^ ^ . ,, 

I Guests at Armorers 
Captain Roger Desterin, friend of Irene > , ,. 

' [ weddmg. 

Cepinnier. 

Frederick Hutchinson, cousin of Armorel. 

Henry Kinfowell, husband of Elizabeth. 

Miss Excel, proprietress of the North View Private Hotel. 

Mr and Mrs Cupwin 

Their children, Eileen and Desiree Cupvi^in. 

Miss St Estwyn l^Guests at the North 

Mr and Mrs Askell / View Hotel. 

Miss Geswick 

Mr Bishop 

IzzY Brooks ) ^ . , 

^ > Friends of Simon Ardree. 

Lofty Chiffop j 



For a list of other people who 
appear in this book, see page 657. 

viii 



Cellarer's. 

E.G. 4. 

7 May 1939 



My Dear Hutchinson, 

The man who told you that I "knew something about the Mickett 
Lane affair" was exaggerating. My acquaintance with the business was 
so brief and fragmentary as to be almost negligible. 

For many years now my professional concern has been with less 
murky goings-on. I report flotations, mergers, a bankruptcy or two, 
things which would not interest you at all (but which have more mean- 
ing than the man in the street commonlv supposes). I chanced on the 
Mickett Lane distress through the accident of being in the neighbour- 
hood when it happened. I had been interviewing Jaslin, the margarine 
king, who for some reason known only to himself kept a hide-out in that 
district, and when I was putting my story through to Webb he switched 
me over to Shagan, the assistant news editor, who through twenty- 
seven Fleet Street years has retained for every murder that comes 
along a na'ive and boyish appetite which I find rather endearing. He 
had got wind, in the way he does, of the Mickett Lane killing, and as 
news was slack and most of the crime team were up in Cheshire nosing 
round the Macclesfield nonsense he asked if I would nip round and get 
an early cut at it. I could not say No to the old darling and I went. 

There was the usual crowd in the street, staring at the wandows. I 
suppose they hoped to see an angel appear and carry the departed up 
into heaven. The cop doing sentry at the door was a man I had got to 
know in my novitiate, our relationship had been cordial and financial, I 
let it be known that I was principal of the Funerals Branch of the 



IX 



Board of Trade and he let me in (which cost Shagan two quid). On the 
whole I wished he hadn't. Anyone who wants to study the interior 
architecture of Mickett Lane can do so without fear of being jostled by 
me. The Scene of the Crime was a bedroom upstairs. They had drawn 
the curtains, and there was one electric bulb burning over the bed, 
but the curtains let in quite a lot of daylight, giving the room the 
neither-the-one-damned-thing-nor-the-other appearance which you get 
in an empty theatre with the stage set and the curtain up. There was a 
smell of disuse and disinfectants, with a lingering stink of face-powder. 
At my age I am not, I hope, sensitive to what the half-baked call 
"atmosphere", but I found the cheapness of the whole set-up quite 
disagreeable. There were two or three seedy little men in smart three- 
guinea suits doing exactly what they do in whodunits, taking photo- 
graphs with micro-cameras and making measurements, one fellow with 
a cigarette stuck to his lip was calling out the figures just as a tailor 
does. No one took any notice of me, and I had the impression that if 
I'd started to intone the burial service in a high, childish treble or to 
unleash a brace of bloodhounds from my brief-case they still wouldn't 
have taken any notice. It was that sort of scene, by Tchehov out of 
Madame Tussaud. There was a rheumy-eyed old man who I suppose 
was the poHce doctor examining the body. So feeling that I ought to 
give Shagan his money's worth I examined it too. The medical was 
kind enough to point out the wounds in the throat, which I could per- 
fectly well have seen for myself. A wheezy old bore in love with footling 
technicalities. 

It was less exciting than any butcher's shop, but slightly more dis- 
tasteful because of the faked twilight and the soaked bedclothes — 
blood soaking into brown earth was somehow never quite so unpleasing 
to look at. This, I suppose, denotes some atavistic squeamishness in my 
make-up, since the object under examination did nothing to set my 
thoughts to pity or anything of that kind — it had far less semblance to 
a living human body than a stone image, and later on, when I saw a 
photograph of the woman alive, I could not see the smallest resem- 
blance. What was rather curious, though, was that from this white mask, 
partly hidden by matted hair, I was able to derive the certainty that she 
had once possessed some beauty. Had she been a woman of ordinary 
prettiness there would have been nothing left to show. I also remem- 
ber noticing the night-dress, which had Venetian rose point at the top. 
That and the face seemed to go together, and I thought it a pity that 



lace of such perfect workmanship had been ruined by staining. The tecs, 
who are always as resourceful as sailors, had got in a bottle of some- 
thing to ease their labours and they good-naturedly offered me a 
noggin, but the teacup had not been washed properly and I didn't 
want it. 

So Shagan really got precious little for my pains. Jimmie Cobarl, 
who covers all the higher-class slayings, took over the story and did 
his best to put a mystery angle on it — there was that rather corny 
business, you remember, about the two sets of fingerprints on the 
handle of the knife. But that of course petered out in a few days, as 
I guessed it would. Betty Shep worth (I think it was) had a shot at 
re-hashing it for our Sabbath by-blow with a sob-stuff angle, and that 
went over like cotton wool falling into a drain — there just wasn't any 
sob angle as far as I could see. We can turn up the throb column in 
question in our office file if you like. But it was a bum story, anyway. 

I'm sorry I can't tell you more. If you're still interested, you 
might visit a pub called the Old Richmond — go to Elephant and 
Castle Station and anyone will direct you. The barman there — mention 
my name — knew something about the people concerned, and could 
probably put you on to others who knew a lot more; but I'm afraid 
you won't get much. The fact is that the parties involved were evi- 
dently very ordinary and very dull parties. The crime was a vulgar 
crime, inspired by some commonplace motive, which except for the 
protagonists had no meaning at all. 

Let me know if you're ever in town. 

Yours, 
Charles P. F. 



XI 



PART ONE 



T 

JLuB FACTS will be stated and you shall make your own judgements. 
In the strictest sense, it is impossible to give facts uncoloured by 
opinion. When a man says "We had dirty weather" you know that he 
disliked it; another would have said "It was fresh and exhilarating, 
though there was a good deal of rain." No one can relate all the cir- 
cumstances, and those which a man selects, deliberately or not, will owe 
their inclusion at least a little to his prejudices, as well as to his habits 
in observation and memory. But remember, too, that your own preju- 
dices operate all the time. Whatever comes to your mind comes through 
your own screen of intricate associations: the memory of something 
said in a schoolmaster's sarcastic voice; the loneliness of a foreign city; 
a soldier's kindness in a railway carriage when the first light was 
revealing frosted fields; defections and disillusionments. The phrase 
"What I should have done . . ." marks, as a rule, a misunderstanding 
of the nature of things. The largest mistake about truth is to imagine 
that it is simple. 

"But there aren't any taxis about," she said. "Besides, I like going 
on trams." 

But there was no petulance, there was hardly wilfulness in her 
voice, which was always grave and mellow. Her smile gave the words 
a gentleness. Indeed, all her movements were gentle, and seemed to 
be an extension of her body's grace. And besides, Aunt Georgie thought, 
one must allow for all that the poor child had been through. 

For the moment there was no tram either. The No. 35 which was 

3 



coming down St George's Road had pulled up with a jerk at the end of 
Colnbrook Street. A drayman was in difficulty with his horses and the 
tram, by stopping short, gave him the chance to get himself straight. It's 
always the same, the tram-driver said to himself, directly you get south 
of the river you're in among bunglers. But he was sentimental about 
horse traffic, for the London he had grown up in was the London of the 
early eighties and at forty-two, with four years of muck and fright 
behind you and with only the converging rails in front, you see your 
childhood in gentle hues. 

Georgina said, "Aunt Edie will wonder why we've been so long." 

''She'll think we've been killed in an accident," Armorel answered 
gently, half-turning to survey the length of Contessa Street with a 
tourist's curiosity. "She'll say that the ways of Providence are past 
finding out but you can rely on Providence to do what's best for us all." 

"Oh dear!" Aunt Georgie said. 

A small Morris van turned into the street and pulled up a few 
yards down on the right, its new green varnish a flash of gaiety in the 
street's dull tones. At Marshall Gardens the tram had been stopped 
once more. 

I suppose, Aunt Georgie thought, for a moment following her 
niece's gaze along the slovenly side-street, I suppose Edith would say 
that people who live in such places have done something to deserve it, 
even if it's just a secret sin that only God knows about; and then, 
vexed with the way her mind referred all such problems to Edith, It's 
possible, she thought, that really they like it because of not having to 
worry about clothes. And this, thought Armorel, surveying the pinched 
houses, the iron roof of Dibdin's cooperage, rusted enamel plates on the 
tobacco shop, is what you get from laissez-faire. Yet there were trees 
delicate in winter nakedness against a pool of glass-green sky between 
the school and a signal-box; the hard light of a February morning 
came more gently upon damp pavements through the brown cloud 
which a train had left on the viaduct, and before the soot-stained bricks 
where the road went out of sight a child, wheeling a home-made bar- 
row, wore a coat of brilliant blue. Raggedly, enfeebled by the grinding 
of the main road traffic, a trickle of The Arcadians came from a piano- 
organ beyond the turn. 

To those who lived in Bowler's Tithe, Contessa Street (which has 
been rubble since, and the rubble cleared away) was merely a channel, 
the place where you started running if you heard the tram; in summer 



a tank of stuffy heat, scented with glue, in cold weather a funnel for 
damp and bullying gusts loaded with the smell of railway. It had fallen 
into dullness, Lizzie Bentlock thought, gazing from the upstairs window 
at the green van and the workmen going home to dinner; the Trims 
had gone, and Macdonald and his daughter, there was no one left to 
make the street what it had been in her day. To Daisy in the blue coat 
the street was cosmos: the place where the trams went by, to hound 
and crush all children as she had learned, was merely a rampart of 
dim sights and noises within which the habitable world was laid. 

So while it lasted it had more than a name, than mere identity, 
this passage-way, this space in which the builders had spawned a few 
drab specimens of their art. It had its privacy. The sounds were chiefly 
an overflow from the main road, the moan and shudder of trams, a 
tidal monotone of engines; from the main road it took a few ingre- 
dients of its breath, the smell of tar and lubricant, of old, damp furni- 
ture, of a taproom opened in the morning: but the noise which returned 
with dear familiarity to a man back from Flanders was that of machine 
saws in the cooperage; the reek of frying fat came from Ted Olsen's, 
while the yard belonging to Blake's upholstery gave nostalgically the 
scent of dung and rain-soaked hay. In all the busy hours people were 
drawn in from the main road in the way that a few animals from a 
driven herd will tiirn at any gateway: railwaymen on their way to the 
Sanctuary Sidings, pedlars and high-heeled girls, the Bowler's Tithe 
people who seemed to exist as ballast for the trams. It was earlier in the 
day that women with dropped-over shoes and hessian bags would call 
to each other across the road or wave to a window as they paddled 
round to the shops; Contessa Street's own people; and in the evenings, 
when it was light, both path and roadway were possessed by the Con- 
tessa children, so that a passer-by could feel himself an intruder. On 
Sundays, in a gap between the trains, you heard from right across the 
river the City's bells. 

From the brewery the ^A' shift came by twos and threes on 
bicycles and passing the women on the kerb the younger ones did look 
at Armorel's legs, of which, in the gray silk stockings, even the knees 
had grace. A youth twisting his machine with reckless skill through the 
moving mesh of traffic, bending it into the calmer street with one foot 
on the ground, called "Lost y' Rolls, sweetie?" and she gave an answer- 
ing smile. But the smile was of no use to him, it had no coyness, 
nothing that he looked for. Her face was no use either, though he could 



recognize in its shape and colour what old gents admired in dark pic- 
tures at the back of an art-shop window; like her carriage and her 
clothes it belonged to rarer tables, not meant for honest hunger. 

Aunt Georgie said fearfully: "I still don't see why you wanted to 
come to this place at all. There are plenty of dressmakers who do 
alterations in ordinary parts of London. Miss Hawker shortened that 
coat for Christine, she really did it very neatly." 

''Well, I liked this woman's advertisement. It was honest. It was 
the only one in the column which hadn't got 'Christian' or 'Gentle- 
woman' jabbed into it." 

Hardly aware of Aunt Georgie, whose chatter she could answer 
without stirring the muscles of her mind, she watched the men on 
bicycles and the last-minute shoppers with a faint, friendly smile. For 
a few moments the sun had broken clear; and the hum and chatter of 
the highway, conglomerate odours quickened by the cut of winter, came 
upon her sadness like the noise and breath of sea. 'There is a world 
elsewhere I' To eyes grown used to the laburnum trees of Cromer's 
Ride, to Hilda Abbess's tennis-courts and drowsing cedars, this move- 
ment and this hardness gave the semblance of a battlefield. These who 
passed, she thought, who could not spend a shilling till they had made 
it, were concerned with livelihood, not the mere decorations of living; 
they did not act a part, they were in possession of reality because they 
were a portion of reality themselves. The dwindling tattoo of a goods 
train gave room again to the high whine of the saws; "Did you see 
that bleeding loco?" a man in the roadway said, "I was firing that sort 
back in 19 lo," and the signal^on the viaduct rose again and somewhere 
beyond the schools a tug was hooting. Noticing how Georgina winced 
when a boy whose face was covered with impetigo hobbled past them, 
she thought. That's how you get when you've surrendered to the 
sheltered life; a few more years of Cromer's Ride, and I should be 
the same. It was hard to imagine her own mind yielding to environment 
as Georgina's had. But the events of last October, the disgrace and 
misery, might seem in the end to have been a salutary warning. Her 
failures, as she saw them at this moment, had been in a formal dance 
which one could call Young Ladyhood, performed on a narrow and 
tritely decorated stage. There was a world elsewhere; and finding this 
other world about her, with its straitness and its live confusion. This, 
she thought, is an arena where the minuettists would stumble and be 
crushed, and where a swordsman finds himself at ease. 



The lugubrious jingle of the distant organ petered away. A window 
shot up, a strident voice bawled suddenly, "That's right, Mrs Ardree, 
don't you take any neck from him!" and broke into gusty laughter. 

"Rellie, quick, here's the tram now! Be careful, there's a lorry 
coming!" 

"One minute," Armorel said, "there's something happening." 

Another of them! the tram-driver thought. The elderly woman he 
had seen from fifty yards away shook her umbrella at him as if she 
were Boadicea defying all the Roman legions, made a stiff-jointed 
rush to the platform, realized that something was missing and bolted 
back to the pavement. As a matter of routine the lorry-driver, coming 
up on the tram's near side, stood hard on his brake and saved her life. 

"Rellie, what are you doing?" 

The tram moaned on towards Camberwell Green. 

"I'm sorry, Georgie darling. But I want to see what's going on." 

The man who had driven up in the green van had entered the 
tobacconist's (where they also sold baking powder, dog biscuits, writing 
pads, the Westminster Gazette and sometimes brussels sprouts) and 
performed Stage One of his mission, which was merely to demand the 
overdue payments. In accordance with the rubric of his instruction- 
book he then stood back while an ounce of humbugs was sold to a fat 
small girl. When the shop was clear he performed Stage Two. 

"Well then," he said, "my employers much regret that they are 
obliged to act in accordance with the terms of the contract — Paragraph 
17 — of which you have your own copy. Since payments are now seven 
weeks overdue, the ownership of the apparatus reverts to Ingenio- 
matics Limited." 

A good, quick get-away was the main thing. The weighing-machine 
was itself some seventeen pounds in weight. He put his arms right 
across the counter, got a good grip and held it in to his stomach. 
"Good-morning!" he said with flat politeness. 

The woman running the shop behaved as these women generally 
did. She had babbled about "just another week," about money coming 
in soon, about the first two payments having been made right on the 
dot. The 'Employers much regret' speech, made as the Instructions 
enjoined 'in a firm, clear, authoritative but not hostile voice,' had left 
her bemused. He was out on the pavement before she had really 
tumbled to what was happening. 



But then she acted quickly; much more quickly than he would 
have expected, for she was a short and heavy-breasted woman of ad- 
vancing middle age, with eyes which looked as if she was short of sleep. 
She jerked up the flap of the counter, dashed after him and grabbed 
his arm, shouting "Tsat belong to me! Tief 'n' robber! Two pound I 
pay — belong to me!" 

From the other side of the street a raucous voice shouted, "That's 
right, Mrs Ardree, don't you take any neck from him!" 

The salesman took no notice. He moved on towards the back of 
the van. But when the woman suddenly caught hold of his hair he did 
what almost any man carrying an awkward burden and thus attacked 
would have done: he moved his shoulder so as to give her a jab with 
his elbow The blow, shallow as it was, may have hurt her. Her reply 
was to tug viciously at his hair, and this made him drop the machine. 
The machine, falling, struck the woman a glancing blow on the hip and 
she, screaming like the damned, collapsed on to the kerb. 

This, in the shortness of time which always seems a miracle in 
London, brought a policeman; actually he was on duty at the cross- 
roads less than sixty yards away, he was a man of long service and 
his professional reflexes were good. But before he reached the site of the 
trouble another performer had appeared. This was a youth of eighteen 
coming home to the shop for his dinner. He had seen the sharp jab 
which the salesman had given to the woman (who was his mother), 
he had seen her fall. She was now in a heap on the pavement, very 
slightly bruised, groaning piteously and talking gibberish at the same 
time, while the salesman stood beside her, flummoxed, with the 
thought uppermost that this was going to cost him the job he had been 
so lucky to get. The weighing-machine was upside down and broken 
in the gutter. The scuffle which followed, witnessed with enthusiasm by 
old Mrs Bentlock, with amusement or interest by several passers-by, 
was a squalid affair lasting less than a minute; for the way an English 
street-row goes is generally humourless and untheatrical. The boy, 
Gian Ardree, went swiftly but quietly up to the salesman, as if he 
were going to ask him the time, and then struck him with great force 
just in front of his ear. The salesman hit back savagely, with some 
effect. The two got into a clinch, much as heavyweight boxers do, and 
before the policeman had reached the spot the man was lying on his 
back, the boy kneeling on his chest and jabbing at his face. By this 
time Maria Ardree was on her feet again ; and when the constable, with 

8 



a gruff "Come on now, that's enough of that!" started to haul the boy 
off by the collar she attacked him viciously from the flank, forcing him 
to turn and catch hold of her arms. At this point the boy must have 
been confused, and there seems no reason to doubt the sincerity of his 
later statement, "All I could see was that some bloke was going for 
Mum." It was not surprising, then, that he in his turn, as soon as he 
was on his feet, whipped round and went for the policeman, with 
such ferocity that in an instant the policeman was down on his bottom, 
half-stunned and with blood all over his mouth and chin. But the boy 
was not content with this. In that moment when the policeman was 
helpless he struck him again, so that the man went over like a sawn 
tree, his head crashing against the front spring of the van, his elbow 
on the surface of the road, where, a second afterwards, he was lying 
face-downwards and unconscious. 

The bystanders now took a hand: the English do not care, as a 
rule, to have their policemen murdered in the street, and the second, 
unnecessary blow had not been overlooked by the brewery men, who 
were accustomed to consider fighting with some discrimination. A pair 
of them got hold of the boy and held him. The constable was carried 
into a house on the other side of the street and a cyclist was sent off 
for assistance. In a very short time an ambulance came, and two more 
policemen. 

It is perhaps of interest that the salesman, temporarily deprived 
of his good sense by the shock and pummelling he had suffered, tried 
to carry the weighing-machine back into the shop, as if that would 
cancel out his own part in the affair; and that Maria Ardree, in appear- 
ance fully returned to her sober faculties, ordered him with elaborate 
righteousness to take it away and bring her another one in good repair. 
This seemed to be the only aspect of the proceedings in which she had 
retained her interest. 

The boy, when a policeman led him away, was in sorry case. He 
was a creature short in the legs but elsewhere big in body, with great 
breadth of shoulder, and his large head, tightly capped by black and 
rather curly hair, was built with a rough distinction: the grey eyes large 
and heavily browed, gibbous cheekbones thickly lapelled with down, an 
austere finality in the shaping of the channelled over-lip, of the spare 
cheeks and jaw. His hair, now, was full of dirt, there was dirt as well 
as blood spreading from his forehead all down one side of his face, 
which for the rest had turned to an unhealthy white, and on to his 



yellow muffler. His shirt was torn diagonally from the shoulder, letting 
most of his hairy chest and his stomach show bare, a triangle torn 
from his trouser-leg hung below one raw and bleeding knee. He walked 
with his left leg dragging crookedly, as if it wanted to go a way of its 
own; in another context its behaviour would have been amusing. A 
muscle behind that knee was torn, and one had said the boy must be 
in agony; but his face showed no awareness of pain, or anger now, or 
shame or defiance. The look in his eyes was one of detached interest, 
as if the main road which he was approaching had just the value of 
novelty for him. Passing the women who stood at the corner he did 
turn his eyes for a moment: the girl's head with its crest of copper 
foam was uncovered and the dove-blue coat she wore, which would 
have passed without notice in Bruton Street, was not unnoticeable here. 
In that glance he may have received some impression of her slenderness 
and the delicacy of her skin; he can hardly have seen how nobly the 
eyes were made, the depth of their smoke-blue colouring; and then, as if 
this image was not worth a busy man's attention, his gaze went back 
to the barber's pole on the other side of the road. Very soon a police 
car arrived from Damien Street and took him away. 

"Where are you going now?" Aunt Georgie called in agony, as 
Armorel started to walk along Contessa Street. 

"I must find out what it was all about. I want to know who that 
boy is and what they're going to do with him.'^ 



X T WAS thought wiser to say nothing about the incident to my cousin 
Gertrude, who of late had heard as much about Armorel's waywardness 
as an old lady could reasonably be asked to bear with. (But she 
got wind of it and had the whole story fitted together in a few 
days.) Edith, of course, was on to it at once. Georgina, determined 
in her kindness to protect the child, answered her sister's questions 
with a clumsy evasion; and evasion worked on Edith as linseed on 
draghounds. In truth Georgina, when cornered, rather enjoyed the 
narration. "Of course really, Edie, it wasn't what you would call a 



10 



street-fight at all. It was just one man walloping another man. Or 
rather one man walloping two men, and a woman walloping them all, 
as far as I could see. Of course I had no idea what the time was. And 
you know it really was rather funny, Rellie standing there — of course 
poor darling she didn't realize how wicked it all was — Rellie twisting 
up her gloves and saying under her breath, 'You silly woman, you 
idiot, you're kicking the wrong man.' Of course I was quite helpless, 
I was holding the bag with the new hat in it, as well as my umbrella." 

"Is it very amusing," Edith inquired, "when some blackguard 
attacks a policeman and knocks him senseless? Do you think Armorel's 
father would have liked her to see a man behaving like a wild beast — a 
man made in God's own image — and to treat the whole thing like a 
peepshow?" 

"Well, you know, Edie, poor Arthur did always like a bit of ex- 
citement himself." 

"Yes," Edith said, like winter settling upon the countryside, "and 
I suppose Armorel's mother may have spoken those very words this 
time three years ago." 

So Armorel got another lecture. From Aunt Edith. Gertrude, 
loaded with more than seventy years' experience of human caprice, was 
too tired to lecture anybody; perhaps too wise to lecture her grand- 
daughter, for in Armorel she recognized a Truggett in all except ap- 
pearance, and she had known so many Truggetts. She was one herself; 
a Truggett manquee, as she once told me, having tumbled into mar- 
riage with the son of a Warwickshire landowner and so into the 
sheltered waters of maternity. 

She did not often leave the house at this time. She wrote letters 
to old friends in her clear and beautiful Victorian hand, and gave a 
great part of her time to wood carving, which had been her hobby since 
childhood. Like many old women she had the fame of being formidable 
and bitter-tongued; but this reputation, spread euphemistically by her 
daughters, was partly based on her special behaviour to them. Edith 
and Georgina, as she saw them, were wholly Cepinniers (without the 
Cepinnier good looks) ; only Arthur had been a Truggett in his fibre 
and intelligence, in his ardent dissatisfactions. In truth, Gertrude's 
acerbity was superficial ; it betrayed a continuous irritation \vith Edith, 
and the need of every old woman for some attitude, like helplessness or 
ambient disapproval, to wear as a moral shawl against the gusts of 
autunm. When you took her away from the day-to-day affairs of 

II 



Cromer's Ride she could talk with a quiet independence, and with as 
much good sense as many more pretentious intellects. You found that 
the staunch Protestantism which her relations alternately feared and 
smiled at hung on a framework which was rational and humane; and 
upon other subjects she was always slightly 'advanced/ though the 
advancement may partly have been designed to irritate Edith. There 
was, I think, one source of bitterness in her life: a lingering jealousy 
of her mother's fame. I doubt if she ever had the qualities for wearing 
Dorothea Truggett's mantle: the mental range, the incessant ardour; 
but I am sure that she herself believed so, and felt that only the pro- 
tectiveness of a too-loving husband had prevented her. "But what do 
they really do," she once asked quite pettishly, "these women who 
gabble to me about their districts and their committees!" And then 
she added, with peculiar mournfulness, "Oh well, I've done nothing 
either, I suppose. And the years have all gone by." 

I knew the Cepinniers first when they lived at Standle Minster, 
in Dorset, and I have a very early memory of being taken there by 
my mother to see Dorothea Truggett in her last years: her last months, 
I suppose, since her life and mine had overlapped for barely four 
years when she died at the age of ninety-one. I remember quite clearly 
the matched greys in the carriage which was sent to meet us at Bland- 
ford, and the mere in the Park, which for some reason I imagined then 
to be the Sea of Galilee. The rest is clouded and fragmentary, but 
my mind has kept a definite picture of Dorothea herself, sitting bolt 
upright in the high-backed wicker chair which was afterwards for 
many years in the drawing-room at Cromer's Ride. I am not sure if 
I identified her as a human being at all, because I had not been 
acquainted with a human being who kept so perfectly still; she seemed 
rather to be a life-sized doll, made with peculiar skill to smile and to 
speak. For she did speak to me, in what sounded like a man's voice. 
(Her daughter Gertrude's voice, in later years, became very much the 
same.) It is on record that I asked her, with the forthrightness of 
infancy, if she was an angel; and that she answered, "Mr Disraeli said 
I was a witch, and ought to be burnt alive." (Surely an unwise thing 
to say to a child; but it made not even an aural impression on me.) 

It is difficult to know whether that encounter left me with any 
memory of her features. I think it did, but I cannot tell certainly how 
far the picture I see now, quite sharply and in three dimensions, comes 



12 



from a child's candid eyes and how far from Sargent's portrait in the 
Walker Art Gallery which was painted in the same or the previous 
year. That portrait, reproduced as a frontispiece to Sarah Goodwin's 
Four Famous Quakers, is before me now, and I am almost ready to 
say "Yes, this is exactly how I saw her." The smallness of her mouth 
surprises me, as I believe it surprised me then. It must have been un- 
usually tiny. And I find it almost impossible to imagine that mouth 
shouting Scripture into Lord John Russell's carriage, while two police- 
men struggled with her at a corner of Parliament Square, 'in a voice 
that could be heard on the Embankment.' The story that once, when 
staying with the Percys, she pulled a bishop out of bed to roar in his 
ear "When wilt thou learn that God is Love!" is probably an invention. 
But the Middlesbrough Riot is history: and when a thousand iron- 
workers swarmed along Corporation Street with sticks and rails, yelling 
for the blood of the wretched Puckroft, it was that same exquisite 
mouth, crying "Friends, I declare you shall not lay your hands on one 
of Christ's children!" which silenced and at length dispersed them. 
Her skin, if Sargent's brush and my memory are faithful, was far less 
wrinkled than that of most aged women, and so clear in texture that 
one would suppose it had been diligently cared for throughout her life. 
No one, seeing that face, would guess that she had brought up her 
family, from choice, in a four-roomed weaver's cottage; that before 
producing her great treatise on Conditions in Coalmines she had worked 
for eighteen months at the coalface; and had lived and laboured, herself 
a very sick woman, in the Santa Lucia quarter of Naples through the 
terrible autumn of '84. Only the eyes, I think, must have told a percep- 
tive stranger what kind of woman she was. Sargent himself said that 
he had failed with them, and yet when I first saw the original painting 
they held me fascinated with their depth and flame. Those eyes make 
me see a little of what. Miss Goodwin meant by her remark: "There 
was in her love something which I can only describe as ferocity . . . 
Men whom she had merely rebuked, and in no easy terms, loved her no 
less than those who were clothed and fed by her inexhaustible gen- 
erosity. She, for her part, gave her love to all as freely, almost fanati- 
cally, as she gave her mind's and body's labour. But her love trans- 
cended the huge field of her sympathy; her fellow men could not alone 
absorb its fulness and its violence . . ." 

It must have been a little hard for Lawrence Cepinnier to have 
so exceptional a mother-in-law under his roof for seven or eight years: 



13 



one may admire the Winged Victory beyond measure without wishing 
to have it in one's parlour, a lodestar for tourists. He was a white- 
moustached old Wykehamist who lived in an aura of inoffensiveness, an 
amateur of rural crafts and personalities, one who vaguely hoped that 
all the transitions of life would be as gently managed as the colours 
of a Barbizon landscape. To such a man Dorothea Truggett's volcanic 
presence, her contempt for the luxurious, the abruptness of her obiter" 
dicta, must have felt like a clatter of applause between the movements 
of a symphony. Yet his grief for her loss was even greater than her 
children's and he wore himself to illness in trying to trace and maintain 
the many channels of her generosity. (That was an activity which cost 
him money as well as care; for Dorothea's possessions, when she died, 
were valued at £230, with a personalty of £87. 15s.) Rather patheti- 
cally he relinquished, soon after her death, certain small luxuries for 
which she had reproved or rather — I think — teased him: he no longer 
had his glass of madeira at mid-morning, no longer paid his annual visit 
to Parsloes Park. His own trotters were disposed of; and two or three 
of his most valued pictures went to Sotheby's at the same time. ("I 
think she looks a sweet woman," Dorothea had said about one of them, 
"and if thou art certain, Lawrie dear, that she and the young man are 
actually married then I suppose no one could complain. But I do think 
on Sundays she ought to have something stuck over just that portion — 
even Eve had that.") That sale, however, may have been merely to raise 
money: a part of the timber in the Park had been sold some time 
before. 

There was not much at Cromer's Ride to remind you of Lawrence's 
personality. One could have felt it, perhaps, when Gertrude first moved 
there, when Streatham was not yet a mere suburb and the tall windows 
of the dining-room gave a view of Surrey hills. With houses on each 
side, and a string of reach-me-down villas beyond the garden wall, it 
became a place that he could not have lived in and remained the man 
we had known. He needed some generosity of space, where the elements 
of an ordered landscape could merge into each other: the trim box- 
hedges of a rose garden, close-mown lawns falling to the meadowland 
like a starched apron on a skirt of serge; a sash of mist hanging 
across the mere and the heavy green of Whipper Coppice against 
the distant blue-green of Earl Godwin's Camp. 

7, Cromer's Ride (as Gertrude's house becam.e) had been built 
without a downstairs lavatory. Neither in the single bathroom, clut- 



14 



tered with shelves and cupboards, nor in any bedroom was there 
a convenient mirror for shaving. These were the kinds of things it 
lacked, and most of all it lacked fresh air and light. She did not care 
for draughts, Gertrude said. The air, as she required, stood still: air, 
one would have said, which the builders had originally trapped there: 
heavy, stale, and bearing pertinaciously throughout the years the 
reputable odours of a provincial drapery store. 

'T think it's exactly right for you, Mother," Arthur had said. 
"So much cosier than Standle Minster, as well as being so much cheaper 
to run." 

"And your own room, Arthur darling, is it perfectly comfortable?" 

"Mother dear, I'm certain that if King Edward came to stay with 
you he wouldn't ask for anything better." 

After all, he was never there for more than three or four days, 
for in the earlier years of his marriage Irene couldn't bear him to be 
longer away from home: Armorel and Christine would never go to 
sleep quickly, she said, if their daddy hadn't been in to say good-night. 

And perhaps he was more at home at Cromer's Ride than in any 
other part of his world. Not that his mind could canter there, but at 
least it could trot in the ordered and familiar avenues, and the shyness 
in which he was gripped as tightly as some are held by arthritis was 
unlocked in a house where everyone had made their final opinion of him 
years before. At his own home he had that feeling of release in the 
nursery whenever he had the children to himself; but that was seldom, 
because Irene preferred to share his meetings with them: within a 
minute or two she would always be there, leaning against the rocking 
horse, wearing her impartial smile, saying, "No, Arthur darling, Rellie 
isn't old enough for that . . . We don't really know if the Bible 
stories are true, do we! I don't think Rellie ought to listen to what we 
don't know is true." At Cromer's Ride Edie would badger him about 
his clothes, insisting that he would do better in business if he went 
to a West End tailor; "And you know, Chubby, Irene is really quite 
clever about her clothes, and you don't want her to feel that her 
husband's dowdy." But he had only to look pathetic and say that he 
hadn't at the moment any clothes smart enough for visiting a West 
End tailor. And there was O'Connor to be kissed and to slap his 
trousers in return, "You know I won't have such impudence, Master 
Arthur!" and Georgie to be teased about the affair with Mr Gretton. 



IS 



"I saw him only the other day, Georgie, and he looked quite hag- 
gard. He said, 'Cepinnier, how is that beautiful girl, your sister?' " 

"So you told him, I hope, that Edie was in excellent health. Yes, 
Chubby, you know perfectly well it was Edie he was after." 

"Georgie my darling, it was a wife he wanted, not a mount." 

"Chubby, hush!" 

"You don't think that any human voice could possibly penetrate 
the partitions of this mausoleum!" 

"Oh, you won't say anything to Mama against the house, will you? 
Mama would die if she heard anything against it from you." 

"Our mother, Georgie, is a woman of tolerably robust constitution. 
Any criticism from her only son would undoubtedly put strain upon 
her heart, but not necessarily a fatal strain." 

He never left any mark upon the house. There were photographs of 
him in Gertrude's room, a demure small Arthur in velvet, an Arthur 
turned to stone with his bride on his arm, but that was all: the gun- 
case under the sideboard had belonged to Lawrence, the Rowlandsons 
to Lawrence's father. Even when he was there his presence scarcely 
altered the house's emanations. If he wanted to smoke he used the 
garden. The room he slept in was always tidy, the bedclothes turned 
back in the morning, his night-shirt folded. Whenever he went upstairs 
this slight, fair-bearded man, who had bloodied a Foreign Secretary's 
nose in the dining-room of the Athenaeum, would change into house 
slippers as the nurse at Standle Minster had taught him. 

"Really," Edith said, "you'd hardly know that we had a man in 
the house." 

"Then what," asked her mother, "is the point of having one!" 

But Gertrude could take a certain pride in his behaviour when they 
had women visitors at afternoon tea, for these 'poor suburban petti- 
coats', as she called them, would candidly envy her his perfection. 
Certainly he had brought his afternoon manners to the level of a craft: 
his eyes were so sharp for empty tea-cups, his movements so unobtru- 
sive, his eyes proclaimed such pleasure in female conversation. A cer- 
tain roughness of opinion which he occasionally betrayed in the morn- 
ing-room (and which Gertrude, in truth, provoked) would never reveal 
itself here. If the ladies had heard some story of young Mr Cepinnier's 
dangerous radicalism they disbelieved it as soon as they talked to him. 
"Ah, no," he would say, "I've got no head for politics. I simply vote 
as my wife tells me . . . Exactly! Why, when we have a dramatist 

i6 



of Mr Pinero's calibre, should we send for our plays to Norway!" And 
he would move the screens without being asked, and when O'Connor 
carried out the tray he would hold the door for her with a courtesy 
which reminded Edith, oddly and touchingly, of their father. 

These were not merely party manners. When the visitors had 
gone he remained at his mother^s disposal, thoughtful and circumspect. 
She did not have to ask him to get her spectacles — he had noticed that 
the case was not on the mantelpiece. He knew that with the Truggett 
economy which Standle Minster had never destroyed she liked to use 
the last of the daylight. He realized that Edith with her long back and 
her rheumatism was best in the Knole chair. These attentions were 
valued by women who, living always together, could not in reason 
trouble very much about each other's smaller comforts. But they 
valued his conversation still more. 

Sometimes, when their mother went to bed early, the 'children' 
would play three-handed whist, of which Gertrude formally main- 
tained an elegiac disapproval. But this happened rarely. Now that 
the girls could no longer be ordered to bed the three women darkly 
competed for the pleasure of having Arthur a last few minutes by 
himself: Gertrude always hoping for a breath of masculine worldliness, 
and perhaps an argument, Georgina for a little teasing, the easy com- 
radeship and sweet absurdities of their nursery days. The loser in this 
three-cornered struggle was generally Edith, who had to find time for 
the new, elaborate procedure of her devotions. Success mattered least 
to her. She would have liked, of course, to confide in him: on her belief 
that Georgie was still young enough to hope for a bridegroom (if only 
she would take more trouble with her hair) ; about how difficult Mama 
had become, treating O'Connor as her personal maid and interfering 
with the housekeeping, which by agreement was now Edith's province; 
but she knew that she could never find voice or words for what she 
most wanted to say — how tenderly and fiercely she loved him, how she 
wanted him not to despise her for her failures, how hard it was for 
a woman to know and fulfil her duty. 

For himself, he seemed indifferent which of them captured him; 
and for the lucky one he would allow his mood to reflect the colour of 
hers. So for his mother he would rouse himself to flame against Mr 
Chamberlain, with Edith he was serious and attentive. For Georgie he 
had gentle gaiety or silence as her face appeared to bid him; and to 
her, guardedly, he would sometimes speak a little of his own interests, 



17 



of his loathing for the underwriter's trade, of friends who had dropped 
him or whom he had dropped. But those subjects he would allow to 
fall away like sand through the fingers, he would say "But, Georgie, 
you don't deserve to be bored with such foolish affairs. It's only stupid 
and feeble people who lose their detachment, who get hurt and angry as 
I do. Directly you get ill-tempered you prove that you're as much a 
moral dwarf as all the others ..." 

She Hked to talk to him about his children, knowing that he adored 
them. But here, here only, she found in him the shyness with which 
his ordinary friends were so familiar. "Yes, I should say that Armorel 
is a pretty child. But how is a man to know? Of course everyone flat- 
ters her looks to please me, and one's own aesthetic sense is quite un- 
reliable." 

"You'll bring them to see us soon?" she often asked. "It would 
be so lovely." 

"Yes, sometime, I suppose. But Irene thinks they're too young 
to be away from home without her." 

"But there's plenty of room for Irene as well." 
"I know. But you see, there are difficulties in looking after chil- 
dren in someone else's house. I mean, you want them to keep to their 
home routine, and you don't want to be a nuisance." 

She realized it was useless to press him. How well she knew that 
attitude of his, the little fingers linked and the thumbs stuck up, his 
mouth closely smiling at what anyone else would have thought to be 
an amusing memory, while his eyes gazed sleepily into the fire. 

"Then Mahomet will have to go to the mountain. I'll come and 
stay with you, as soon as I've finished helping Edie with her Waifs 
and Strays bazaar." 

"Yes, Georgie, I'll get Irene to invite you. But it may be a little 
time. She's changing the rooms round, she's making a new nursery 
next to her own sewing room. It's rather — well, you know, she likes 
to make visitors comfortable, and she can't do it when there's something 
else on her mind." 

She told him one evening that Armorel was her favorite. "Of course 
Chrissie is very sweet too. She's so demure, so confident. She seems 
to live in a dignified little world of her own. But I can't forget the 
smile that Rellie gave me the very first time I saw her. Exactly as if 
she'd known me years before and as if she'd been longing for me to 
come back." 

x8 



"Yes," he said. "Yes, she sometimes smiles like that now." 

He was in one of his silent moods, and she let the silence enwrap 
them. All the house was quiet except for the clocks and for Edie cough- 
ing. He was sitting on the floor beside her chair, he took her hand and 
went over it as a doctor might, as in childhood he had played with his 
mother's hand, feeling the veins, remotely smiling. She would have liked 
to follow his thoughts, but she knew that he was grown-up now, and 
that when a man swims out into that stream the best that a woman can 
do is to stay close by for his return. John Truggett's clock in the 
morning-room struck the half -hour. 

"You know," he said, "I wonder and wonder why God lets us 
make children in that accidental way." 

"But, Chubby, we don't make them!" 

"You see a girl," he said, as if she had not spoken, "and you seem 
to need her. Or is it that you feel she needs something from you? — 
protection? — I don't know what it is. So a marriage is arranged, as they 
say in the Morning Post, and you sleep in the same bed, and then 
there are children. There's not really any more plan behind it than 
that." 

She said, while he still played with her hand, "But isn't that a 
lovely and beautiful thing to happen?" 

"Sometimes I think it is a damnable thing to happen." 

Presently he said: "I've one grudge against you, Georgie. Being 
brought up with you, I always imagined that boys and girls weren't 
so fearfully different, and I got the idea that men and women weren't 
either. I mean, we always had much the same ideas, we didn't tell fibs 
and we didn't sneak on each other. We both meant the same thing 
when we talked about being fair. We had our secrets, and our jealousies 
and all that, but we didn't cheat. Not even on April Fool's Day — we 
had our rules and we stuck to them. So did poor old Edie, she never 
cheated either. And another rule was that when you were hurt you 
didn't cry more than you absolutely had to. So of course I got the 
idea that all women were like that, brave and loyal, and honest in the 
way they think about things. I suppose that's what they call naivete." 

"But most of them are like that. Surely they are." 

"Some of them are bitches," he said. (It startled her, that word, 
which he pronounced with a quiet fury entirely new to her. She had 
heard it first from the doorway of a cottage she was passing, and Nurse 
Violet had wheeled her fearfully away, with sinister warnings.) ''Every- 

19 



thing they do or say is part of some scheming, because that's the only 
way their minds work. Their minds are so twisted up that truth can't 
find its way inside." And letting go her hand, and tightening his fist 
so that the knuckles whitened, he uttered like pistol shots two more 
words which she had never heard at all. 

The house could absorb such a disturbance in its rhythm and quiet- 
ness. At night nothing got past its outer walls, one heard only the 
strange hiss and gurgle of the water pipes, the tedious industry of 
clocks, sometimes a prolonged coughing from Edith's room. That 
spasm of Arthur's violence, Georgina's sobbing in her pillow that night, 
were washed over by the succeeding tides, losing their outline, remem- 
bered only as people say "There, along that path, just by the gate, 
that was where I once fell over and cut my knee." 

His letters were just the same. He wrote to them all, to Gertrude 
every week as he had done from Framlingham, to each of the girls 
every month. The letters were never without a kind message from 
Irene, there was usually something gay about the children; and to 
Georgina he often wrote at length about their new frocks and accom- 
plishments, Christine's odd sayings, the grave report which Armorel 
had given him of her first day at a kindergarten school. 

He had been tired that night, Georgina thought; something was 
on his mind, there might have been some little quarrel. Yet the mem- 
ory of the evening stayed when she had long forgotten most of his 
actual words: the memory of his tightened fist, the sunken fire's light 
on his grey, locked profile. It rose when they first heard the dreadful 
news about Irene; it came back still more vividly with the letter telling 
them that he was missing since the second Battle of the Aisne. 

And naturally Armorel re-awoke the memory. When she first came 
to live at Cromer's Ride she reminded them all of his gentleness. Her 
voice and movements were so graceful, she took such pains to do nothing 
which would upset her aunts' or her grandmother's routine. She lacked, 
of course, the gossamer thread of gaiety which had been a part of her 
father's charm; her smile was never quite without sadness, her laughter 
had a note of unreality. But that, they agreed, was only to be expected; 
and they would not have wished to have a boisterous girl in the house, 
or even a girl like Christine, who made the most extraordinary remarks, 
and who talked of her anomalous husband in a way that was positively 
zoological, without understanding (they hoped) a quarter of what she 



20 



said. It was only rarely that Armorel fell into what Georgina thought 
of as 'Chubby's serious mood'; and it never happened when anyone 
except Georgina herself was present, for when Gertrude or Edith was 
about there was that small tension in the air which forbade the wan- 
dering of thoughts. It happened when the child was tired; when a little 
party of Edith's friends had sat for a long time discussing church 
matters which must have been above her head, or when Edith herself 
had been querulous and impatient. And it was always likely to happen 
on those rare occasions when a letter came from Irene. Georgina would 
find her without book or sewing in a room falling into darkness, her 
lovely body completely still, as if the spirit had deserted it, her eyes 
lethargic. It was the mouth, then, that recalled Arthur: the lips folded 
away, the muscles of the jaw so tightly caught that they trembled, 
as those of some patients, brave only by volition, when an abscess below 
the finger-nail is being lanced. Then, if she spoke, it was in a voice less 
carefully held than the one she used every day; and she would say, 
perhaps, ''My mother's written to ask me for Daddy's new address. 
I should have thought the motor-racing man could have got it for her 
from the War Office. But of course I must send it at once — she used to 
to talk to me so much about good manners." And then, perhaps, there 
would be a kind of laughter; leaving Georgina able only to murmur 
some triviality and go away. 

A day or two after the tram-stop episode she was inclined to that 
mood. Georgina saw it coming on. 

"Aunt Georgie, you know I promised Aunt Edie I would help her 
on Monday with the handbills for the Austrian Relief concert. Do you 
think she would let me off? There's something else I want to do. 
Georgie, darling, could you be a dear and ask her — she may think it's 
all right if it comes from you." 

This was too much for Georgina's courage: she had done her full 
share as buffer in the last few days, and Edie's present temper was far 
from reliable, with old O'Connor in one of her most awkward moods. 
"I'm sorry, Rellie, no, you must ask her yourself." 

By an error of judgement she arrived in the drawing-room that 
afternoon, just before tea, when the interview was under way; and as 
Edith had caught sight of her she could not quietly escape. 

"But you see," Edith was saying patiently, "you did make me 
a definite promise, and I've made a promise to Mrs Nowell. That's 
what I'm concerned about. People who are — well — worse off than we 



21 



are don't seem to bother about promises nowadays. It's probably owing 
to tfie War. That's why I feel it's so important for people like ourselves 
to carry out our undertakings to the letter. And you still haven't told 
me what it is you want to do." 

Armorel was perched with her palms on the keyboard cover of 
the piano, her young breasts thrusting in the marocain dress, her pretty 
knees crossed over. She was smiling, as if Edith had just paid her a 
little compliment. She said peacefully: 

''It's something rather private. I'm afraid another day wouldn't 
do." 

"Of course, Rellie, I don't in the least want to poke into your 
secrets. Only naturally, as you're living here, we like to have some 
idea where you are. I mean, is it to see friends?" 

"Aunt Edie, darling" (she still spoke very softly), "you know 
I'm going to be twenty-one in a few months' time. And I have got a 
younger sister who's married already." 

Edith said hesitantly: "Well, I'll have a word with Mrs Nowell 
and see if she can possibly find someone else. Only I shall expect 
you — " 

"I'm terribly sorry. Aunt Edie, but I've quite definitely decided 
to use that day as I want to." 

This was a moment when a third woman would have put in a 
few tactful words to set things right, had her wits moved fast enough; 
Georgina's moved like shire horses at the end of a day's ploughing. 
Edith said with terrible quietness: 

"Rellie, don't you think that's rather ill-mannered!" 

There was just a moment before the gentle-voiced answer came: 

"Well, the way I look at it. Aunt Edie, is that your treatment of 
me is just one long course of damned impertinence." 

Another moment passed. 

"Rellie, where have you picked up that word?" 

"I've heard Daddy use it, for one. And he was as good a Christian 
as you are, since that's what seems to count." 

"What word?" asked Gertrude, coming in for her tea. 

" 'Damned,' Grannie." 

"Well, he never used it in here. You must go out into the garden 
if you want to use words like that. Over by the rhododendrons. I hope 
O'Connor's made the tea a bit stronger today — ^yesterday it tasted like 
rusty pipes.'' 



22 



Armorel made her apology, as Arthur might have done, in a grace- 
ful note slipped into Edith's room. Early on the Monday morning, 
having borrowed a pound from Georgie, she set out for the Damien 
Street Police Court. From what Ardree's mother had told her, she was 
convinced that the boy was not really vicious. She believed that a few 
words from her might make all the difference to the result of the case, 
and she was determined to say them. 



'A 



ND YOU haven't SEEN your husband since last September? 
You've no idea where he is?" 

"No, how should I know!" 

"The N.S.P.C.C. inspector says you told him that your neighbour, 
Mrs Brim, was always in the ground floor room in the evenings when 
you were out — " 

"Well, she was most nights." 

"Yes, but on that Tuesday evening — Tuesday the twenty-second 
— did you go to see whether she was in before you went off to the 
cinema?" 

"Well, what would be the good! I don't go to the cinema to amuse 
myself, same as what you do. I've told you, I get my living there, I got 
to get my living somehow. I can't tell the manager I can't come that 
evening because Mrs Brim's gone to see her sister. Can I now?" 

But the girl was not asking for anyone's sympathy. Her white 
face was passionless, her thin, small mouth was as hard as Galba's. 
She had refused the offer of a chair and stood as rigidly as a soldier, 
looking straight across the Court. The baby, asleep with his chin on 
her narrow shoulder, had brought up his last feed, leaving a cascade 
of mess down her smart, thin frock. With her mouth shut like a pair 
of pincers she waited with the patience of machinery for the smug 
to answer that one. 

The little tired man under the grandiloquent canopy suddenly 
moved his head. 



23 



''Mrs Scherwinsky, I want to ask you a question. How often do 
you give your baby a bath?" 

"I do him Fridays. When I get back from the Rex. I never missed 
once since I had him." 

A smile touched the mouth of a woman standing by the door. 
Sickening superiority, Armorel thought. There was no majesty here, 
dignity only of a provincial kind. The room could have been the con- 
venticle of one of the straitest sects, or a place where concert parties 
rehearsed. It was the young man now who asked the questions, the 
man with his dark clothes sharply creased and the voice of slopping 
milk a little turned. And by what right did he, who could never have 
gone hungry to feed a child, let alone borne one, ask these questions 
putrid with innuendo! The tired manikin, the celebrated Mr Cuddish, 
she supposed, had dropped into his previous posture, forearms on the 
desk, hands clasped, his head with its oversized dome supported by 
one thumb propped into the underlip. She watched him intently. His 
eyes, half-closed, were frozen like a dead man's, staring to some uncer- 
tain point beyond the witness-box, his body so still it was hard to 
believe that he was breathing. 

People came in and whispered and went out again. The woman 
Scherwinsky was led away, her place was taken by one who might 
have been her grandmother and who argued with His Worship in terms 
of equality as with a familiar chess opponent, before accepting with 
royal complacence his usual figure of ten shillings. The rest of the 
drunks were put through quickly. 

They had not much chance, she thought, these wayfarers who 
stumbled in to fight on their opponents' pitch, bewildered amateurs 
with the practised hands surrounding them. The Court's simplicity was 
only a snare; they were listening, these officials with bored and homely 
faces, they had heard the tale a thousand times before and they 
knew exactly where a gentle tap would buckle it. Belonging to neither 
side she was lonely. The policeman glanced now and then in her di- 
rection, her eyes went down the flowing taper of her own legs to the 
fan-shaped over-buckles of her shoes and she wished again that she 
had dressed more shabbily. 

"Gian Ardree!" 

A movement somewhere behind her, a sharp intake of breath, 
made her turn to look that way, along a row of worshippers at a serv- 
ice they didn't quite understand. And there at the end was Mrs Ardree, 



24 



sitting between two men: perhaps she had been there all the time. 
One of the men was whispering, the pug-faced one with a knitted tie 
which had drifted from its moorings; she did not seem to hear him, 
and having bestowed on her his thin, professional smile he moved over 
to the other side of the Court. 

The tracks through the powder on Mrs Ardree's cheeks were evi- 
dence that she had wept profusely, but now she was moderately com- 
posed: her lips moved busily, as if in a dumb show of lecturing, her 
puzzled eyes went every way like a six-month baby's, but her head 
remained completely still, couched, a little on one side, in her rolling 
breast and shoulders as a chop lies in a dish of mashed potato. She 
would not answer Armorel's friendly smile; she might not have seen 
it, much less have recognized the young lady who had come into the 
shop, that compHcated day, to ask her questions; neither did she 
answer the scrag-haired man who leaned sideways to murmur some- 
thing in her ear. There was in the stillness of her body, lagged in 
dusty velveteen and yellowing lace, the mien of a foreign princess on 
show, drilled to quiescence and the utterance of a few gracious phrases. 
With her teapot shape and the violent blue of her dress, her stertorous 
breathing and the volume of eau-de-cologne which drifted from her 
half across the Court, she seemed a little out of drawing. The stage was 
catholic, it could absorb a great variety of feature and of costume 
within its tessellation. The person of Maria Ardree was not absorbed. 

^' . . . and nothing but the truth. On Friday the twentieth of this 
month at i.io p.m. I was on station duty at Damien Street police 
station. I was ordered to proceed to Contessa Street, following on 
information re disorder in that street. I arrived in Contessa Street at 
1.2 2 p.m. ... I then measured the distance between the kerbstone and 
the blood on the carriage-way, which I found to be two feet eight 
inches — " 

"You mean, measuring on a line going at right angles from the 
kerb?" 

"Yes, Your Worship." 

"To the centre of the pool of blood?" 

"Yes, Your Worship. I then examined the mudguard of the 
vehicle already mentioned ..." 

Precise and colourless, the pattern of impartiality, the voice came 
like the market news from a tape machine. Mr Cuddish was a wax- 
work again, the bleached face of the clerk was the face of an aged 



25 



croupier. Yet no one seemed more detached than the squat youth in 
the dock, whose eyes, turning with curiosity about the Court, never 
once rested on the witness. Seeing him in profile, she thought he looked 
older than when he had limped past her in Contessa Street. Older and 
less barbaric, for his face was clean, his hair had been cut and his great 
shoulders fitted (much too tightly) into a jacket of shiny serge. But not 
less formidable. With the flatness of its planes, the narrow fit of flesh 
to bone, you could imagine this the face of a mountaineer, perhaps of 
an espada; except for the drifting eyes which, as she saw them now, 
had the gentle, fumbling scholarship of a chimpanzee's. 

It was the police surgeon talking now. "... also abrasions in the 
left leg and left forearm . . . comminuted fracture of the right humerus 
with nerve involvement and impacted fracture of the right forearm . . . 
Unconsciousness lasted 68 hours . . . possibility of compression . . ." 

Mr Cuddish stirred like a vane in a whiff of wind. 

"Can you give any opinion on how long it will take to heal these 
injuries?" 

"You mean, sir, the injuries to the arm? It's not possible to be 
certain at this stage. I can only say that at present it appears to me 
rather unlikely that the constable will recover the full use of the right 
arm." 

"Now, with regard to the head injury. Am I right in supposing 
that when an injury such as you have described occurs it's possible for 
serious nervous disorders to occur at a later period in the patient's life?" 

"That is so." 

"And he is a man of what age?" 

The surgeon hesitated. Close to Armorel's seat a small woman with 
her thin hair in a tight bun half-rose to her feet. She said in a little 
voice, the cultured voice of a parlourmaid in an old-fashioned house: 

"Forty-six, sir. And a fine father. I beg your pardon, sir. Only 
he's my husband." 

There was a moment's stillness while this raw interpolation echoed 
against the room's impersonality. Then Mr Cuddish continued to 
address the witness. 

"Now, I want to know this. These injuries that you've described — • 
can they, in your opinion, have been caused by the constable falling first 
against the side of a stationary motor car and then on to the road?" 

"Yes, it's feasible that they were caused in that way — he is a heavy 
man — fourteen stone, I should say. Perhaps I ought to add that nor- 

26 



mally one would not expect to find anything like such serious injuries 
resulting from such a fall." 

"Now, supposing that the constable had been standing on a mat- 
tress — the kind of thing they have in a gymnasium — and he had been 
struck by another man: could the same injuries have been caused?" 

"No, most emphatically not." 

"Not even if an extremely powerful man had struck him?" 

''No, sir. Definitely not." 

And now, she thought, Mr Cuddish is enjoying it. It was part of 
the essential infancy in males that they gloated over technicalities, espe- 
cially those of fighting and wounds. As if it could matter! The man had 
been seriously injured, the boy here had struck him, there was nothing 
in dispute. Her gaze turned to the dock again. She wished she were 
nearer, and to the front of him, to see if there were cruelty in his curious 
eyes; for that, she thought, is what really matters, and that is what I 
could tell a hundred times more certainly than these men who do not 
even trouble to look at him. The woman who had interrupted sat per- 
fectly still again. Poor thing: but what was she here for, did she hanker 
for revenge, was she so simple as to imagine that Ardree had attacked 
her husband with deliberate malice, or that it would benefit her one 
farthing to punish him! It belongs to the dark ages, she thought, as a 
new witness and then another went into the box; it comes from the 
crude morality of the barbarian legislator Moses, whose tribal bombast 
is served up to English children as transcendental wisdom: this notion 
of righting one man's injury by seizing the nearest human cause of it, 
proving him wrong by diagrams and clapping him in the stocks. With 
her hand curiously trembling she took a sheet of paper from her bag; 
wrote, "I am willing to give evidence as to character of Accused. 
Armorel Cepinnier"; addressed it to "Solicitor for Defence, case of 
G. Ardree" and passed it to the man on her right. 

The pug-faced man was earning his fee. He had let the constable 
and the surgeon go unheckled — no use wasting time with the old hands 
— but the witnesses who followed, men damp and vibrating with stage 
fright, were dainty subjects for his gladiatorial art. 

"You say you did not throw the machine at Mrs Ardree? But the 
machine was in your hands? And you made a movement with your 
hands — a vigorous movement, I think you agreed it was? And the next 
moment the machine was striking Mrs Ardree? Oh, it fell! — you're 
quite sure it didn't walk across to her and hit her of its own accord? 



27 



. . . You admit that you struck the accused several times? Yes yes, I 
know you told the Court it was in self-defence. You 'struck out blindly' 
— I think that was the phrase you used? And yet you say you know 
you never hit the constable? Perhaps you can tell the Court how you 
know you never hit the constable? . . ." 

And at each reply he smiled, sticking his little yellow teeth into 
his upper lip, gazed up to the ceiling, nodded slowly, and then glanced 
quickly round the Court. 'Ladies and gentlemen,' his eyes and his ges- 
tures said, 'it may astonish you that the world should contain a fool 
and a liar of this calibre, but to me the spectacle is so commonplace that 
I find it merely tedious. As a matter of interest I shall exhibit for you 
just a few more specimens of this moron's duplicity.' The note had 
reached him, but he only put it in his pocket. He sniffed, raised the 
collar of his coat and re-fitted it, indicating a certain weary distaste 
for the task of tearing the prosecution case to shreds. 

The youth Ardree remained aloof. You could not have guessed 
that all this questioning had anything to do with him. 

When the first of his own witnesses was called, the pug-nosed man 
became a new personality. The sneer disappeared as if it had been 
wiped off with a sponge, the tension of all his gestures collapsed, his 
very clothes seemed to alter, fitting his limbs more kindly. The battle, 
his expression proclaimed, was over. It only remained for him, Mr 
Josiah Hosencroft, solicitor, of 29 Cressport Street, to show how all 
this horrible misunderstanding had occurred and to demonstrate the 
Court's ardent sympathy with the sufferers. Slowly, with an awkward 
dignity, Mrs Ardree went into the box, moving as if under the manage- 
ment of tugs. She smiled shyly to her son, stumbled through the Oath 
and then waited stoically, as it appeared, for a giant grapple to descend 
and carry her off to the Lambeth Incinerator. "You," said the Clerk, 
"are Mrs Maria Ardree, the v/ife of Simon Ardree? And you are the 
proprietress of a general store in Contessa Street, Lambeth?" Mr 
Hosencroft gazed about the Court benevolently, as one realizing that 
a child must sometimes have his way. 

The man like a lorikeet rose and said sharply: "This witness has 
been in court all the time. Your Worship." Mr Hosencroft swelled to a 
mountain of innocence, for a minute and a half the two men fought 
like cocks in a Limehouse main. "... In the circumstances you may 
proceed with this witness," Mr Cuddish said, "but any other witnesses 
you intend to call must immediately leave the Court"; and the man 
who had sat beside Mrs Ardree was hustled out. 



28 



"And now, Mrs Ardree!" Mr Hosencroft said paternally. His head 
went a little to one side, his fat small hands drooped outwards, he en- 
closed the whole Court in his philanthropy. This was the bonne bouche 
of the day, the prize for which, reluctantly, he had kept the Court 
waiting so long: this spectacle of human innocence, of womanly virtue, 
long traduced and scorned, emerging at last in radiant purity for all 
the world to see. "And now, Mrs Ardree, I'd like you, if you will, to 
tell the Court just exactly what did happen on that Friday." 

The smile, the ducal courtesy which flowed out to her from his 
eyes, his hands, his waistcoat, should have moved Mount Etna to acqui- 
escence. Maria Ardree was dumb. She did not look frightened now, or 
even sorrowful. She had congealed to a piece of masonry, oblivious, 
impervious, a rotund, spilt-over body only technically alive. 

"Come now, Mrs Ardree!" Mr Hosencroft said. 

That was like the last thrust of a rod, freeing a choked conduit. 
Mrs Ardree said abruptly, but not ill-naturedly: 

"All of sem are liaren tieves." She drew a whistling breath. "I ask 
him very clear, what happen if machine is wrong, what happen if I 
have no money every goddam week? You are all right jussasame, Mrs 
Ardree — he sait sat — sissis where you sign sepaper, see? you have one 
copy, I have one copy. One pountown, see? Nex week, one pountown. 
Nex week, where issa money? Money? I laugh! You ask Mr Olleroyd, 
I sait, I tell him to ask Mr Olleroyd where issa pountown! Machine? 
— no goodatall! I tellimtsat. I tellim I weightsababy of Mrs Lewis, I 
put on tsirteen poun — allseman give me wissa machine — sebaby go 
down zump, semachine bite at his toe and he screech. So! she say — Mrs 
Lewis — So! my baby is two yearen sree monce, ant he weigh no more- 
sen tsirteen poun!! Fugh! (Mrs Lewis sisis.) So I tellseman he can 
take off semachine, but I will first have my two pountown. Wassiser 
good of semachine if all sebabies weigh tsirteen poun, no minder what- 
sayweigh! Mr Olleroyd, you see Mr Osencroft, sir, he have a long time 
whenset is no work for a fur-nailer, so sen he give me no money. So 
you see, Mr Osencroft, sir — " 

The clerk said with kindness, "Now listen, Mrs Ardree, you mustn't 
waste time telling us all sorts of things. All we want is your account 
of the struggle in which the constable was injured. What do you re- 
member about that?" 

Maria nodded. 

"My son, sare, my son Gian!" 

"Yes?" 



29 



"He see sat sepoliss is attack. So he try to knock a hell from 
seman sat attack sepoliss. My son vayr, vayr strong man. He bring 
back his arm, he swingse arm, zumpl — seman turn away, searm hitse 
poliss — zump! — sepoliss fallonse road. All broke." 

From that statement nothing would shift her. She embroidered, she 
re-modelled. At every opening, and even where no opening seemed to 
exist, she strayed again into the lush pastures of her experience, her 
earlier life, the life of her family, the misfortunes of Mr Olleroyd. But 
when they brought her back she had her story essentially the same: 
her son had fought to protect the constable, the blow had miscarried 
and fallen upon the constable himself. Her energy increased, and hav- 
ing reached its highest frequency it never slackened. It solidified her 
body — her gigantic bosom, the cabriole arms, the great pouches which 
formed her face and neck — as the inrushing air hardens a cycle tyre. 
The whole mass vibrated, she struck at the air, she fired her sentences 
like bullets, her alarming gusts of laughter cracked against the court- 
room's sombre decency like the taunts of street boys scrawled on 
churchyard walls. The display was prodigious, the embellishment gro- 
tesque. But not for an instant comic. For, as Armorel could see, it was 
not a performance at all. Her facts were so far at variance from what 
the other witnesses had soberly affirmed that no one in his senses could 
accept them. Yet she, Maria, was believing every word she said. And 
she was fighting. You presently forgot the foreigner, you forgot the 
woman, you saw only the soldier. Mr Hosencroft was out of it, she 
neither had nor wanted anyone to help. She knew that all these pale 
and fiat-tongued people were against her, she saw they had steered her 
son into their gin, she was going to face the pack of them with her 
own clean sword and carve a path for his escape. 

"... I tell you, Mr Worshipen sirs, if my Gian would have kill 
sepoliss, if Gian would have kill all sepoliss, he do it because he is 
braven kine, because he lov sepoliss sesamas he lover sismosser! Tsat 
issa truce, and you knowit satsatissa truce I" 

The lorikeet said: "No questions!" 

"Thank you, Mrs Ardree. I think that is all we want." 

The witness called next was the man who had sat on Mrs Ardree's 
right and who looked like a horse-coper got up for a wedding. The way 
he lumbered into the box suggested that someone had promised him a 
good view which he was ready to take on trial; and having read the 
Oath as if it were a mildly entertaining newspaper paragraph he slowly 
scanned the horizon, twisting his long neck like a tortoise's, frowning 



30 



and smiling without prejudice at nothing in particular. You had said 
from his appearance that a middle stage in his development had been 
left out. His narrow head, with hair like moorland swept by fire, be- 
longed to a man in the later forties; the high forehead yellow pocked, 
skin tightly stretched on the long nose and long upper lip, a dappled, 
smoky lichen on scraped cheeks and broken chin; but the lanky body 
was a boy's who has grown too fast, the large and clumsy hands moved 
with the independence of a boy's. His clothes might have been designed 
to stress that incongruity: his starched collar, much too big for the 
scraggy neck, rode up at the back, leaving the tie behind; the black 
coat, very long in the body, left inches of his wrists quite bare; and 
his waistcoat, adorned with a gold watch-chain and with coffee stains, 
had nuzzled up against his hollow chest so that his brace buttons, drag- 
ging at their anchors, were revealed beneath. He seemed a patient man. 
You could not tell from his moist grey eyes if he were happy or sad. 

"... name is Simon Ardree and you are occupied as a 'theatre 
specialist'?" 

"Well, I don't know that I could rightly say. You see, sir, in these 
times it's a matter of putting your hands to what comes along. Now 
Mr Vincent, who I get work from now — " 

"Well, we'll take that as we've got it down here. Your name at any 
rate is Simon Ardree?" 

Simon Ardree reconsidered the question, and then said seriously, 
in his overgrown Merseyside voice: 

"That's what they always told me." 

The clerk glanced at Mr Hosencroft. Mr Hosencroft, rising with 
dignity and taking a new manner from its hook, said as one initiate to 
another, "I think that what you tell the Court, Mr Ardree — just very 
simply in your own words — I think it may put the whole of this matter 
in its proper light." 

"That's right!" Simon Ardree said. For a few moments he went 
on looking about the room, as if his speech must be written somewhere 
on the walls. Then, shrugging his shoulders, he said confidentially to 
Mr Hosencroft "Well, it's like what she says. Only she can't get her 
words right, not even after all these years, she's never done any book 
work as you might say, she don't seem to get her tongue round some 
of the words. Well, it's like what she said, this Olleroyd, you see, he gets 
all behindhand because he can't get work, the fur trade being in the 
state it is, and the wholesalers what send my wife the stuff for the shop 
they won't send so much as a packet of salt until they've got the money 



31 



for the last lot. Well, this machine, you see, Maria never did ought to 
have taken it, the same as I said to her myself." 

"Were you present," the clerk asked abruptly, "when the incident 
in Contessa Street took place?" 

"No, I was over at theatre. That would be three miles, going the 
way the bus goes. Well, two and half, say. Make it two and three- 
quarter miles, and that would be as near as you'd want." 

"Well, then—" 

"But when I come home she tell me what went on. That was a 
proper mix-up, the way it looks to me. As my wife said, the boy there 
couldn't have done more nor less, with that man half-murdering his 
mum on the pavement. That's not right. I reckon I'd have found the 
money for that machine — " 

"Now listen! The Court doesn't want to know what your wife told 
you. We've had all that from Mrs Ardree herself. If you've no evidence 
to give from your own direct knowledge then you're merely wasting 
the Court's time." 

"Sure! And mine!" Simon Ardree said, and shrugged his shoul- 
ders again, and stepped out of the box. But upon an afterthought he 
turned back, and in the voice of one who has run far with urgent tid- 
ings he addressed the top of the Magistrate's head. 

"I'll just say this — if you'll pardon my speaking, sir. I know this 
lad better than what you do, and there's not a grain of vice inside 
him. Quick in his temper he may be. And with nobody but his mum 
to keep a hold on him as you might say, all through the war, that was, 
and a good part of the time before that — well, a lad don't rightly learn 
to keep a hold on himself. I tell you, sir, I'm his father, and taking him 
from the inside, as you might say, I know there's nought only good 
in my son." 

He bit his lip. You could see there was something more he wanted 
to say, but the words would not muster. So his mouth broke open in 
an imbecile grin, he shrugged his shoulders once more and once more 
turned away. 

And now he was utterly dejected, one far stupider than Armorel 
could have read it from the set of his body, from his forlorn, evasive 
eyes. True, his mouth smiled again as Maria ostentatiously welcomed 
him back to his seat. But he sat down with his great hands perched 
like spiders on his knees and stared at the floor between them: a man 
to whom Canaan had been shown and denied. 



32 



The clerk turned to Hosencroft, "Do you wish to call the defend- 
ant?" and for a moment Hosencroft seemed to lose his assurance. He 
stared suspiciously at the opposing solicitor and then at the defendant 
himself. 

Gian Ardree shifted slightly and suddenly spoke: "I never meant 
to hurt him, or nobody." 

"Now listen," said Hosencroft. "Do you want to go into the box 
and give evidence?" 

"I don't see no point," Gian Ardree said. 

It took a few moments for Hosencroft to assume his full forensic 
stature. Then, with the dignity of Portia, he turned to the Court. 
"That is my case." 

The stir which Armorel expected did not occur. There was no 
whispered consultation or fluttering of papers, no adjournment, no 
expectancy. Only a second or two of silence passed, and Mr Cuddish 
said: 

"I find this case proved. Is there anything known about this 
defendant?" 

A policeman went into the box and delivered a recitation. 

"There is one previous conviction. At the Lambeth Juvenile Court 
on the 28 October 191 5 he was bound over for twelve months on a 
charge of malicious damage. He attended the Sand Street Elementary 
School until the age of 14, when he became employed as a baker's 
delivery boy. At the age of 16 he obtained employment as a jet wash- 
ing hand at the Hibbage Lane depot of the East Southwark Traction 
Company, and was in that employment up to the date of his arrest. I 
have—" 

Mr Hosencroft said suddenly, and with startling violence: 
" 'Up to the date of his arrest'/ Are you in a position to tell the 
Court on what grounds my client has been dismissed from his employ- 
ment?" 

^T didn't say he had been dismissed.'' 

"In fact, he has not been dismissed?" 

"Not as far as I am aware." 

"Your Worship, I must protest against this evidence. This witness, 
who is an experienced witness, uses a phrase which clearly implies — " 

"I think we can leave that," Mr Cuddish said. "We're all quite 
clear now that the defendant has not been dismissed from his employ- 
ment." 



33 



Without an instant's pause Hosencroft pounced on the witness 
again. 

"Are we to understand, in fact, that you have received no infor- 
mation of any kind from the employers you mention? Nothing about 
character? . . . Oh, you have information as to character?" 

"I was going to say, when I was interrupted — " 

"Oh, you were going to say! Yes yes, let's hear what you were 
going to say!" 

"I was going to say the employers have stated in writing that the 
defendant's work and character have been satisfactory." 

"Ah, now I see! First of all you told us that my client was em- 
ployed up to the date of his arrest. Then you admitted that he was 
never dismissed from his employment. Now you most fortunately re- 
member that the employers have made a written statement about the 
defendant's character. And you say that the character given is 'satis- 
factory'." 

"Yes." 

"You're quite certain that that was exactly the term used?" 

The witness glanced at his transcript. 

"The term used is 'entirely satisfactory'." 

Hosencroft struck the table before him with resounding force. 

"So — at last we come to the truth of the matter! You now admit 
that the defendant was not dismissed from his employment, and having 
searched in the rather cloudy recesses of your memory you recall, and 
you are good enough to inform the Court, that so far from dismissing 
my client his employers have gone to the trouble of making a written 
statement to show without — any — reservation — whatever — that his 
work and his character — and his character — has always been entirely 
satisfactory. Entirely satisfactory! Your Worship, I refrain from mak- 
ing any comment on the manner in which this witness has given his 
evidence. If Your Worship pleases, I propose to call evidence as to 
character of a less — well, shall I say, of a wholly impartial and reliable 
kind." 

There was no longer a trace of defeat in the expression of Hosen- 
croft. He was an artist who did not much care whether the audience 
liked the play so long as he was satisfied with the intimsic merit of 
his own performance. He was satisfied now: you saw it in his face, in 
the new deliberation of his movements. He had thrown the powers of 
evil into confusion by his able musketry, he had marshalled his own 
forces with that calm ability which, however often he tasted it, never 



34 



quite lost its relish. He wriggled luxuriously in his clothes, as one enjoy- 
ing a hot bath. He stroked his neck, gathering the loose flesh forward, 
and his hands went slowly down to his pocket. A crumpled piece of 
paper came out, he glanced at it and leaned over to speak to the clerk. 

It was for Armorel a moment of freezing terror. She had watched 
the crude, ill-balanced play in growing distaste. And now, because of 
her impulsive action, it seemed that she was to walk on the shoddy 
stage herself, a junior member of Hosencroft's troupe, with only the 
shred of a line to speak. But the name called was not her own. It was 
Trevon Grist. 

And here at last, she thought fleetingly, is someone able to restore 
the balance; for the low voice of Grist revealed the dearer sort of 
schooling. But when he had said a few sentences she realized that he 
belonged to the multitude of the merely well-intentioned. He was a 
large shambling man in the thirties; the kind, by his physique and 
the rough casting of his head, who walks by himself through Austria 
and Greece, with Donne and Hopkins in a worn rucksack. He was 
described as a club warden, and his personality would doubtless make 
some impression in a village hall or with a pair of male friends in an 
A.B.C. Here he was useless. He had known the accused, he said cau- 
tiously, some three years ago; to be more exact, he had last been in 
frequent contact with him three and a half years ago, when the boy 
was fifteen. Well, no, he couldn't say that he had known him inti- 
mately. Of course he regarded every member of the Club as his per- 
sonal friend; but whereas there were some boys that he knew very 
well, others were not the kind who gave much of their confidence to an 
older man. He did remember that young Ardree had always struck 
him as a decent and honest boy. Rough, yes. Inclined to be quick- 
tempered — but that was common among boys of that age, in some 
respects it might almost be called a healthy sign. Indeed, he thought — 
though here he had to rely on memory, and he dealt with a great num- 
ber of boys — that Ardree was one of those who would always take the 
side of a boy feebler than the rest . . . Speaking on oath, he would not 
like to say exactly when Ardree had last attended the Club, but it 
would be in June or July 191 6. At fifteen or so it was quite usual for 
boys to drift away from the Club, they considered themselves grown 
men at that age and they had new interests — there were no girls in 
the Club. And so on and so forth. It was all impressions, half-mem- 
ories, a stream of vagueness. One small and sensible lie, "I always con- 

35 



sidered Ardree one of the best boys in my club," might have been of 
some use. It would never come. This woolgathering giant was one so 
terrified of a useful lie that he would leave truth stranded. 

Now that the moments of intense relief were over she returned to 
a deeper malaise. She knew positively to which side she belonged. She 
was sorry, deeply sorry, for the injured policeman and his wife. But sen- 
timent should never be allowed to cloud one's moral vision as, she sup- 
posed, it was clouding the vision of nearly everyone in this room. An act 
of violence had been done and here was the young man who had done 
it: that was clear enough. But no one seemed to be inquiring coolly and 
percipiently why he had acted in that way. His own statement, taken 
in the police station when he must still have been in high agitation, was 
recorded in the stilted phrase which made all such statements virtually 
meaningless. His defenders against the peril in which the charge had 
placed him were a pair of middle-aged children, almost inarticulate, 
and now this fumbling Laodicean. What use to talk of justice when 
the reality, seen closely, had such a pattern as this! 

"No," the witness was saying, "I can't say I've ever turned a boy 
out of the Club . . . No, I've never refused one admittance because of 
his reputation. After all," he continued awkwardly, "I'm not so par- 
ticularly virtuous myself. I've got a temper, I lash out sometimes." 

She had still a chance to act. No one could stop her making the 
few steps across the Court to say in Hosencroft's ear, "I have some 
important evidence. It may make all the difference." That would be 
partly true. She had, in fact, very little to go on, but at least she could 
say her piece a hundred times better than the Ardree parents. Her 
brain was working swiftly now, she had almost completed the two or 
three sentences which would force these lethargic people to see the 
incident as Gian Ardree must be seeing it. Only the initial courage was 
wanted, enough of resolution to cross the paltry space between her and 
the solicitor. And already her feet, moving in advance of her will, had 
shifted. In an instant she would have risen and been on her way. 

Something stopped her. Not lack of will, some other part of will, 
so distinct that it might have come from outside: the whispered voice, 
perhaps, of Cepinniers long forgotten, people who knew their status, 
who avoided display. It was over, anyway. She knew with misery that 
she would not gather fresh momentum. 

And the case was virtually finished. The clerk was passing papers 
up to Mr Cuddish, officials were stirring. They were close to the kill. 

36 



Mr Cuddish started reading the documents; but not, apparently, 
with much attention. His expression was that of a schoolboy at his 
desk, the filmed eyes on the text-book a mere screen for the inward eyes 
roving by sunlit streams. Perhaps a quarter of a minute passed, not 
more; in which there was no sign that the wheels of his reason moved 
at all. A frown, or the momentary closing of those opaque eyes, might 
have satisfied the girl intently watching him that he brought to his 
duty more than the perfunctory skill of a booking clerk. There was no 
such sign. He was a pink and drowsy little man, his only thought — she 
imagined — was of getting back to his club. 

Less than a quarter of a minute, and he had begun to speak. 
His voice, a little high, tinged with a legal preciosity, was kept to the 
pitch of conversation: the voice of an elderly schoolma'am announcing 
changes in the time-table to the senior monitress. 

"You have been brought before me on a very serious charge, 
that of assaulting and injuring an officer which the public (that means 
all of us) employ for their protection. If the officer had died from his 
injuries, which might have happened, the charge would have been 
still more serious: in that respect you are fortunate. As it is, you 
have inflicted serious harm on an innocent fellow-being. That is a wrong 
which you cannot now put right. Neither can I. But it is my business to 
see that the police, in the discharge of their duty, have all the protection 
which the law can give them. Which means that people who wantonly 
attack them must be punished. Three years ago you were brought 
before a Juvenile Court for being a nuisance, and you were bound over. 
That appears to have taught you nothing. The evidence which the 
Court has heard proves beyond any reasonable doubt that you attacked 
the constable with the most callous savagery. You are nearly nineteen 
years old — no longer a child — and you have got to learn that society 
will not tolerate this kind of hooliganism. You will go to prison for 
three months." 

There was a small, curtailed cry, such as a rabbit makes when 
a keeper kills it. That came from Maria Ardree. The face of Gian 
scarcely altered: there was only a momentary tightening of his jaw, 
the small grimace of a climber who on reaching one ledge finds a 
steeper pitch in front. One curious thing he did, as they were leading 
him away. He turned right round and stared woodenly at the injured 
constable's wife, and seemed as if he would take a step towards her. 
But the policeman prevented that, and Gian was led from the room. 



37 



The Court began emptying. Armorel stayed in her seat, bending 
over her bag so that little of her face should be seen. 



M. 



ERELY TO steer away from Cromer's Ride she got on a bus going 
westward; and sat there as in a private room, lace-curtained by her 
thoughts. The pain of defeat had to be worked out as men walk off 
their stiffness, and her mind rehearsed now with laborious perfection 
the part she had failed to play. Through the shape of 'Phosferlne' and 
a man's felt hat she could see herself in the box, she could hear her 
own voice, very quiet but distinct; serious, self-reHant, the antithesis 
of all the stolid and the fumbling voices which had come before. 

'Tt was absolutely plain, from where I stood, that the Accused 
was in complete confusion. His mother was lying on the pavement, and 
the only idea in his mind was that he must protect her ... I had a 
long conversation with Mrs Ardree, and by making allowance for the 
natural excitement in which I found her I was able to form an un- 
biassed picture of the character of her son. I am absolutely satisfied 
that he is normally a young man of excellent character and very quiet 
behaviour, devoted to his parents . . ." 

And a new scene came as a lantern-slide comes on the screen, first 
doubled with the slide before and then left plain: the Chinese screens 
in the drawing-room, the Landseer engravings; and through the petu- 
lant horns and the cough of gears she was listening to Aunt Edie's 
sensible and shaded voice: 

^'Yes, but, Rellie, it does seem a pity not to make use of your 
relations. I mean, if your father were at home he would naturally ask 
this Captain Aquillard to meet him somewhere. They'd get to know 
about each other, in the way men do. After all, if you go into business 
partnership with someone you do find out something about him first, 
and marriage is a far closer partnership than any business. I'm sure 
Grandmother would be delighted to have him here for a weekend, say. 
Before we let anything be put in the papers . . ." And Edie's voice 
again, still quiet and sensible, so sensible, but with a deathly chill in it: 

38 



"Listen, dear, I think it's better that you should read Cousin Harold's 
letter for yourself. I don't want you to think I'm reading more into it 
than what he actually says." (This time Aunt Edie's own room, with 
the October morning sun on its hideous bedstead and austere grey 
walls; Edie sitting by the dressing-table, trying to be natural and 
friendly; Cousin Harold's plunging script in violet ink on sheet after 
sheet of Brooks's notepaper.) "... You see what I mean, Rellie? 
'Unstable' — well, a great many men have become unstable through their 
war experiences. That's something which might be put right. But you 
see what he says on the next page — what he got from Captain Aquil- 
lard's own commanding officer. 'Aquillard had said that in his view 
the fact that she was a married woman was immaterial.' You know, a 
responsible senior officer doesn't make up a story like that. And if you 
marry a man who holds that view of marriage . . ." 

The bus groped forward a yard at a time and then stood shudder- 
ing in the tangle of Bridge Street. The silk-hatted messenger who 
stared straight at her face, a dray-horse flinching from its bit, the 
chaste exuberance of Barry's clock-tower were only a film across the 
high-backed sofa in the Plumes at Beaconsfield where Gordon Aquillard 
sat and fiddled with a pair of trouser-clips. 

"Yes, it's a pity — I wanted to tell you in my own way, so that 
you'd understand." (She must try to capture it once again, as those 
who have no head for heights are drawn to high towers, the dreamlike 
sensation when he said those words, the feeling that she watched herself 
as well as him.) "You see, the facts don't speak for themselves — facts 
never do." (The smile at the side of his mouth, while his eyes stayed 
pitiful, as if he were curious to see how she would suffer from a pain 
familiar to him.) "The facts are that I was in love with a woman, and 
that she was married to someone else. We had a child . . . Yes, we are 
still friends, though not in the same way." Then Grandmother's voice 
across the velvet table-cloth, as crisp and final as the magistrate's this 
morning. "My dear child, to behave very stupidly at twenty is like 
having measles at ten. It takes a little longer to get over, that's all." 

And this evening, she thought, as the tumbled current moved again 
and drew them into Whitehall, this evening I'll be in the little chair — 
^Dorothea's chair' — with the child's nightgown that has to be hemmed 
for the RotherhRhe Mission; Aunt Edith will be talking about Mrs 
Nowell's concert, and the way poor Mrs Nowell wears herself out. 
Later, perhaps, if Grandmother went to bed early, there would be a 



39 



cosy half-hour with Georgina. Georgina with her kind eyes would ask 
for the history of the day, the glow of her sympathy was not to be 
resisted, and drop by drop the story would trickle out. ''. . . No, Aunt 
Georgie, I did nothing at all, I sat still like a perfect little lady. Of 
course I meant to say something. But I just hadn't got the nerve to 
walk across to that mouldy little lawyer . . ."In time Georgie would 
pass it on, since concealment was as little in her nature as falsehood. 
There would be meaning looks, perhaps nothing else, criss-crossing over 
the dining-room table, and in Gertrude's room Gertrude would say 
masterfully, "My dear Edie, the child must have these escapades. All 
young people go through patches of sentimentality." Of course, in 
theory it would be easy enough to lie to Georgie; and another person 
could have made the lie a protective scab under which in time the 
wound itself would heal. But at Hilda Abbess's she had lived five years 
in the north light shed by women hand-picked for integrity; and she 
was Arthur Cepinnier's child. 

Then, just then, as the bus swept past the Horse Guards, she knew 
that this must not be a second failure. The first would not matter in the 
end, it belonged to a farandole as extraneous to the march of life as 
Cromer's Ride itself. But this morning she had found herself voiceless 
among the voices of hunger and conflict; and if she finally yielded to 
that impotence no battlefield remained, she was cast as permanent 
spectator. No! Today's defeat was secret and not final. The man was 
not dead. She had seen him caught in a senseless man-made engine, 
watched dumbly as they hustled him away, to what a charnel house 
she could sufficiently imagine. That much was over, and the evil she 
might have prevented would be so much harder to undo. She had no 
plan. But she felt, beyond her angry resolution, a power of understand- 
ing quick and hard enough to overhaul the mischief of a random justice. 
Are baffled to fight better . . . She was committed now. There would 
be no discharge in this war and no soft campaigning. That was as she 
wished, and she did not believe that one who kept his face towards 
a single, high objective could be beaten in the end. 

Filled up again with well-pressed coats and tidy umbrellas the bus 
had become intolerable in its prosperous complacence. As it curved into 
Cockspur Street she shoved her way to the platform and jumped down. 

She had thought of having lunch at a place she knew in Wardour 

40 



Street, but the need of someone to talk to had grown urgent and from 
that came automatically the idea of Duffy Elwin's flat. She crossed 
over to a call-box and rang Duffy's number. 

The decision had been made in a moment: it proved, she thought 
as she waited for Duffy's voice, that a page had been turned. For nearly 
six months now she had avoided everything to do with the School of 
Economics, including the friends she had made there (for since Gordon 
had given up his lectureship the whole story of him and her was as 
private as Trafalgar Square). A week ago, Duffy's flat was the last 
place she would have thought of visiting. That was where she had met 
him first of all. It was in Duffy's sitting-room, that incredible August 
evening (with Duffy rushing out to fulfil some tactful engagement) 
that he had talked in his gently cynical way about Goethe's debt to 
Winckelmann; had stopped abruptly to say in an unnatural voice while 
he stared at her shoes, "You know, I've always been so damnably un- 
happy"; had seized her hands and covered them, her neck and then 
her mouth, with almost brutal kisses. It had seemed impossible in these 
last months that she could bear to sit in that room again; but now, as 
if this day's march had brought her to a new crest, she felt she could 
look back on the bitter months with a semblance of detachment. There 
was another country on this side. 

The charivari of the telephone gave place to Duffy's racing, 
schoolgirl voice: 

"But, my dear man, I like to lie down in my bath! How can 
I lie down if great enormous blobs of red-hot water keep thudding 
on to my chest? Hullo! hullo!" 

Armorel said: "Listen, Duffy, I'm in town, just for today. I'd love 
to see you. Could you give me a bite of lunch. Or would it not — " 

"Darling," said Duffy in agony, "do hang on one tiny moment, 
I've got a ghastly man here, I mean I've got an awfully sweet man here 
to do the ghastly geyser, he's accusing me of stealing his spanner — 
what? — oh, I wondered what I was sitting on, could you keep it some- 
where else, do you think? Lunch? Darling, lunch would be superb. 
Oh . . . Oh, there is just one thing — " 

"Now, Duffy, be honest! If you're going out somewhere, or if 
you're short of food — " 

"Darling, there's mountains of food. The whole place is oozing with 

41 



it. There's only just one tiny bother — No, listen, if I ring straight away 
I can catch her just before she leaves the hospital." 

"Catch who, Duffy?" 

"Elizabeth." There was a pause at last. Then, "Oh, I suppose you 
didn't know, it's such ages since I wrote. Elizabeth's living with me at 
present just for a few weeks. You see, Henry's gone abroad somewhere 
and she's let her own flat and she wants to be somewhere near poor little 
Michael while he's in hospital." 

"But which Elizabeth?" 

"Well, that's what I meant to tell you. It's — it's Elizabeth Kin- 
fowell." 

For a moment the line brought nothing but harassed breathing 
and when Ar morel had said "Oh ..." another silence followed. 

"You know about her?" Duffy asked at length. 

"No— should I?" 

"What? No, no, of course not. Only — only her husband's slightly 
famous and that sort of thing. But listen, darling, I'll ring off now and 
get on to her straight away. No, of course not — ^no, it isn't that — • 
darling, I'd simply never forgive you if you didn't come." 

Armorel went to Strand Station and took a ticket to Belsize Park. 

There was a moment, as she walked up Paisley Gardens, when 
the newborn courage left her. On so many evenings this had been their 
rendezvous. Often he would come out first, bringing notes to work on 
for the following morning, and when she had thirsted through the stuffy 
day for the hour of this walk from the station it was here, just here 
by the fire hydrant, that she had been able to see his narrow head as 
he sat in Duffy's bay window. A whistle, and he would turn and wave ; 
in a few seconds he was striding out to her, disguising his limp, smiling 
with his thin mouth closed as if they two had hatched a plot of superb 
originality; and here, in the middle of the street, they would embrace 
as unashamedly as if a forest sheltered them. To see this death-mask 
of her happiness was to feel the jag of physical pain, an oily smoke in 
the nose and lungs. She would have turned, even then, and gone back 
to the station; but Duffy had seen her, Duffy was leaning far out and 
calling to the several million citizens of London: 

"Darling, I think the latch is down, and I can't come down, every- 
thing's in a ghastly crisis, but you'll find Mrs Chean's key hidden in the 

42 



same old place — you know, in the bottom of the drain pipe. Don't touch 
the door, it's been painted. Oh, hell, I knew that would happen!" 

That, too, brought back Gordon's smile, and Gordon's felted 
voice, "Duffy, of course, is specifically designed by nature to be the 
mother of five gigantic boys, who will grow into brigadier-generals 
and place the posts of Empire further out." But there was no escape 
now. And with Duffy you did not need to guard yourself: you could 
weep, and she would only rummage for aspirin and face-powder; you 
could go raving mad and jump on the mantelpiece, and she would nod 
sympathetically and hunt you out a volume of Jung. 

She was standing at the top of the stairs, holding a sauce boat and 
a pair of crimson pyjamas. She whispered — and the whisper came 
down the stairs hke the ferocious ventilation of underground stations: 

"My dear, it's too awful for the poor darling, his wife's in hospital, 
or gaol or somewhere, and there's only his prehistoric mother to look 
after both the infants, and one of them's cutting a tooth. How could 
anyone concentrate on other people's geysers with all that going tearing 
round one's subconscious! Listen, darling — do come in, darling, you 
look lovely, what a perfectly heavenly colour, that coat — listen, I 
couldn't get through to Elizabeth, so she may be coming and she may 
not. (Do you mind holding this — yes, it is hot.) I'm so terribly sorry. 
Only it's the imbecile girl on the hospital switchboard, she would keep 
putting me through to the surgical ward." 

Armorel said, taking off her hat, "But does it matter? Will she be 
frightfully shocked at finding you've got such plebeian friends?" 

"Darling, don't be so silly — of course not — she's perfectly used to 
it by now. No, it's only I thought it would be so much nicer to be all 
by ourselves, there's such a lot I want to hear alj about. Would it be an 
awful bore just to look at the potatoes — the poor darling's cut his hand 
on the safety tap and I was just half-way through bandaging it when 
you 'came." 

The worst was over now. The room's separate features were the 
same, the grubby chintzes and the hand-painted mirror stuck with in- 
vitations, Nash's Inverness Copse hemmed in by lacrosse groups, 
Duffy's half-finished essays and half-darned stockings over everything; 
but the midday light from a gelid sky showed every outline hard as in 
a child's drawing, the evening magic had all gone. She found, standing 
over the gas-cooker while Duffy flew back and forth like a bagatelle 
ball, that she could refer to him in an easy voice. 



43 



"You know, I rather wish Gordon had been there this morning. 
I feel he'd have got up and said something, or at least it would have 
been a comfort to have someone seeing the whole business the way I saw 
it. Such a mockery it was — going into everything except what really 
mattered. And a sort of awful middle-class calm over everything, as if 
they were doing an experiment in chemistry." 

Duffy went out to pay the boy from the stationer's. "I know," she 
said, returning. "All law-courts are like that. David Egerton told me 
about it once — you know, he was reading law before he changed over 
to botany. He said the lawyers all get together beforehand in the vestry 
or wherever it is and they just decide exactly which way the thing's 
going to go. So everything that happens in court is just fagade. Darling, 
do you think that fish is good enough to offer some to the gas-man?" 

"I'm not going to let the business rest where it is," Armorel said, 
when the gas-man's portion had been taken to him. "I was feeble this 
morning, because I didn't know my way about. I'm going to get hold 
of a solicitor and see what can be done." 

Remembering suddenly that she had promised to turn off Mrs 
Chean's oven, Duffy flew downstairs. She said, when she came back, 
"Rellie, dear, you're absolutely certain the young man's worth helping?" 

"I'm quite certain that I'm not going to see an act of injustice done 
right under my nose and do nothing about it." 

But she doubted if Duffy, still fastened in this ante-room of life, 
would entirely understand. 

The gas-fitter went at last, with a tin of Ovaltine for his wife: 
either the geyser would be all right, he said, or it would just go bust and 
settle the whole argument. A man with asthma took away the laundry, 
an exasperated voice on the telephone was told that this was not the 
PubHc Library, they left the washing-up and took their cocoa over by 
the window. She thought, with a momentary grief, If Gordon had never 
come this would still have been my own life: the aureole of friends, 
the rush to get essays done in time, the delicious, protracted pauses. 
But across the intervening distance — and how large it seemed, far 
larger now than the separation from Hilda Abbess's — the pattern had 
lost its pertinence, like the dress you wore in an old photograph. 

Duffy, running level with her thoughts, said: "You've quite de- 
cided not to start again? You could re-register, couldn't you, and take 
the finals next year. You know that Gordon's in America at present? 
He won't be back before June — he said that definitely in his last letter. 



44 



He's not sure if he'll come then. He's got an option of going on there 
for another year." 

"Oh, you still correspond?" 

"Well, yes, he sends me snippets of news, you know, every now and 
then. He likes to hear a bit about people we both know. I couldn't 
refuse him that, could I?" 

"Of course not." 

"It would be such fun if you came back. Everyone's forgotten 
about that business, you wouldn't find them being sympathetic and 
tiresome. And I mean, after all, everyone's supposed to have an affaire, 
or whatever you call it, unless they're like me with a face like what you 
buy for mouse-traps. No, I don't mean that with you it was just that 
sort of affaire." 

Bunched in the wicker chair, holding her cigarette like a taper, 
she surveyed Armorel through its smoke with all except the malice of 
envy. Here was perfection: the ripeness and the innocence, a body 
moulded faultlessly to wrestle or to float in the air; eyes where the 
eager light held steady as October sunshine, a warmth, a gentle and 
unconscious grace in the gestures of head and hands, in the way the lips 
and tongue moved, forging instantly the smile which the grave voice 
was to carry. She did not want that loveliness for herself, because she 
could not imagine such possession: she was content to warm herself 
beside it, like the aged people whom you see hunched motionless before 
a Leonardo. 

She asked abruptly: "Shall I tell him I've seen you when I write? 
Or would you rather I didn't?" 

"I'd rather not," Armorel said. 

"You feel — sort-of — final about that?" 

"Yes, Duffy, quite final. I can't — I can't get on with people who 
don't tell me things. It's all right if they do tell me, but not otherwise. 
I suppose that sounds like nonsense to anyone else." 

"No. No, it doesn't." 

The latest of Gordon's letters was in the bag under her chair, and 
the thought of letting Armorel read it — even of making her read it — 
came like a nudge on the arm. But she held herself against the impulse, 
wondering if this were the time. Then there were confident footsteps 
along the pavement, and the spring of the front gate whined. 

Armorel, looking over Duffy's shoulder, caught sight of a slender 
black coat, of a white face. A woman was coming up the steps. 

45 



"She's come back after all!" Duffy said. In one moment she was 
all alive again — from her voice it might have been the bailiffs arriving — 
and the next had taken her half-way to the door. "I must tell her about 
that whatyoucallit ! " she said over her shoulder and was off downstairs. 

Armorel could not hear what Duffy said in the hall. But she heard 
the answer, in a voice where pleasure seemed to break through tired- 
ness, "Oh, but I'd like to meet her very much!" 

That weariness was in Elizabeth Kinfowell's face when she came 
into the room; but for a moment only, as she glanced mechanically at 
the mantelpiece for a letter, and then stood still, unfastening her coat, 
letting the thoughts she had travelled with drain away. When her eyes 
came round to Armorel she smiled as if in recognition. ". . . so much 
about you! " she said gently. And Armorel answered as if the smile were 
familiar, for it had that nature, it was not from a shallow sowing. 
There are people whom you know to be often ill, though they rarely 
speak of it. They slip away sometimes; and no one sees them in the 
early hours of morning when they walk up and down the bedroom, 
when they sprawl with a pillow clutched against the face and listen to 
the clock ticking. In daytime it shows only in the eyes, in a moment 
when they are taken off their guard. Elizabeth had that in her eyes 
before she smiled; and her face, which Lotto could have painted, had 
the whiteness of faces kept away from daylight. 

"No, thank-you, Duffy, I had lunch on my way. No, Michael's not 
much better — I think I'll move him as soon as I can and look after him 
myself. The nurses have all been reading books on the Approach to the 
Child, they're rather horrifying." 

She was middle-aged, by a girl's standards: with the grey strands in 
her hair she might be thirty-seven, Armorel thought (giving her nine 
years too many) ; and though she sat on the floor with her back against 
the wall she remained their centre-piece. In part, because of her still- 
ness. She did not smoke. None of her movements was hurried or need- 
less and her hands, folded round her knees, never moved while she 
talked. Her body had not the fullness of motherhood, but she was a 
finished work; you could not imagine that there were experiences left 
to deepen her maturity. 

"... all morning in a police court? — you poor dear! I loathe law 
courts of any kind. Were you giving evidence or something?" 

46 



Armorel said: "Well, no, I thought I might have to, but in the 
end I didn't." 

She had been through the whole story with Duffy: for this differ- 
ent listener she told it differently, with less excitement, with (she felt) 
greater sophistication. 

"... Of course, it wasn't really my business — I only just hap- 
pened to have seen the alleged assault. But knowing what I do about 
the boy — I'm quite sure the mother was sincere in what she told me — 
I can't possibly leave things where they are. I'm going to fight that 
sentence, if it takes me all my life . . ." 

Sitting on the arm of a chair, Duffy exulted in this meeting which 
she had done her best to prevent. She collected humans for their own 
sake, and here were two of her dearest acquisitions, each the rarest of its 
kind, placed in her cabinet side by side. To watch and listen to either 
was for Duffy a continuous happiness; and now, she thought, the virtue 
of each was enhanced by the other's. They were alike in grace of person 
and of speech, they shared an electricity of spirit which brought every 
stranger within its field; yet they differed as dramatically as spring 
and autumn, and she could fancy as her contented eyes ranged over 
them that she saw at once a single plant in different stages of its 
growth, here eager to thrust against the weather, here strong in its 
acceptance. 

"Yes," Armorel was saying, looking a little towards the window, "I 
gave up the course when I was only half-way through. I wanted to be 
doing something a bit more practical. And then my relations with one of 
the lecturers had got rather complex — Duffy may have told you. It 
wasn't doing his work any good. Nor mine." 

And Elizabeth, as Duffy anxiously watched her, said undramati- 
cally, "I suppose that's altogether past repair?" 

"I shouldn't want it repaired," Armorel said. 

It was characteristic, Duffy thought, that Elizabeth's eyes were 
tied to a fly's movement across the window frame as she said without 
emphasis: "They do make things terribly difficult, don't they I Are 
you doing a job now? What sort of thing are you after?" 

"I'm not quite sure. I definitely don't want to go missionizing. I 
should hate to be one of those women who preach and patronize. If it 
wasn't such a drawn-out business I'd go in for law — that's a good 
jumping-off ground. By the way, do you know any solicitors? I shall 



47 



have to get someone to act for me in this Ardree business — on the legal 
side, I mean." 

"Tell me," Elizabeth said, "how much do you know about this 
youth? Well, perhaps I should mind my own business. But it's rather 
the crux of the whole affair, isn't it? I mean, as I understand it, the 
line you mean to take is that the magistrate awarded a penalty without 
paying any real attention to the young man's character." 

"And then," said Duffy, "there was this business of his being bound 
over two or three years before." 

Armorel said: "Oh, in all probability that meant nothing at all." 
She was not entirely ready, just now, to take a helping of Duffy's 
wisdom. "I imagine children are generally brought to the juvenile courts 
simply because their parents are too busy or too lazy to curb their high 
spirits. They're like the incompetent nursemaid who always calls in 
Mama." 

Elizabeth nodded. "Yes. Only you really want to have some con- 
crete evidence that it was a case of that sort. I mean, these lawyers, 
they're the most terribly finicky people to deal with. They always put 
on a most tender bedside manner and they say, 'The difficulty is that 
the Judge simply won't take any notice of what you thought he 
thought'! At least, all the ones I've ever dealt with talk like that." 

Her sadness showed most when she was smiling. A second stream 
of thoughts was flowing, for a moment she looked tired again. Armorel, 
won by her tiredness, said patiently: 

"But I don't see how I'm to find out about that earlier case 
until I've got a lawyer to help me. Surely that's his part of the 
business." 

Elizabeth shut her eyes. "It's in the Lambeth part of the world, 
isn't it? Duffy, who was that man who used to appeal in the Spectator, 
the man who ran some settlement or something? A rather odd name — 
Grind, Terence Grind, something like that." 

"I know who you mean." Following her own routine, Duffy made a 
tourniquet of her handkerchief and all but broke the joint of her 
thumb. "Grist!" she said triumphantly. "Trevon Grist. He once gave a 
lecture somewhere, and Eileen Arbathage was to have gone, only she 
got flu." 

Armorel looked up. 

"Oh, but that's the man who was in court this morning. I'd for- 
gotten his name but I remember now. Yes, Trevon Grist. Oh, my dears, 

48 



he's a hopeless creature. He was supposed to be speaking up for Gian, 
and all he said was that he couldn't remember anything about him. 
Or that was practically all. Oh, he really made me angry." 

"But do you think," Duffy said, "he may be the sort of person 
who just goes all groggy in a court? Some people do." 

"At least it's possible," Elizabeth said thoughtfully, "that he 
knows more than he was able to say in court, for one reason or 
another." 

Already Duffy was away to the bathroom. She was a creature 
always ravenous for action, and by action she meant the frantic move- 
ment of her tennis-ball body. "I know the telephone book's in here 
somewhere," she called back. "That ghastly man was having his fish 
on it." 

"You know, I really do think it would be worth seeing if we could 
get anything out of this man," Elizabeth said; and the 'we' was grate- 
ful to Armorel's ears. "I mean, if only because he's on the spot. At 
the moment we know practically nothing about Ardree at all." 

"I know quite a lot," Armorel said, but without hostility. "It's not 
just what his mother told me. The moment I saw his face I knew that 
he wasn't just a hooligan. Though I'm not sure that it would stop me, 
if he was. I mean, it's not the nice, well-behaved people who want 
looking after. There are plenty of people like my aunts to look after 
them." 

"It was right under the bath," said Duffy, who appeared to have 
been there too. "I suppose he put it there to be tidy. Really, men are not 
quite sane, are they! . . . 'G' . . . 'G' . . . 'G' . . ." 

"What I feel," Elizabeth said, "is that you can't know too much 
about people. The reason I'm always in such a mess is that I never keep 
that rule, I merely pass it on to others. There was a waiter who stole my 
handbag once, the management were going to hand him over to the 
police but I begged him off. I thought he was rather a pathetic little 
man, a half-caste of some sort. And then just at the time he would 
have been in gaol he knocked an old woman down and broke both 
her legs. She happened to be the wife of the mutessarif and they 
hanged him." 

"But surely one doesn't get anywhere if one guards against that 
sort of thing. You've got to trust your own judgement." 

"Well — as long as you can." 

"Always!" 



49 



Duffy asked: "Does 'R' come before 'Q'? No, I've got it, 'Grist, 
T.' that must be the one. The address is 'Hollysian House, Burke's 
Wharf, S.E. i.' That's all — it doesn't say anything about him." She 
was already on her way to the telephone. "I'll get him, shall I?" 

Elizabeth said: "Well, it might be worth—" '^ 

"No!" Armorel said quickly. "I shouldn't know what to say. It's 
frightful explaining who you are on a telephone." 

"Exchange?" said Duffy from the bathroom. "Oh, I was going 
to ask you for a number in Lambeth, but I don't think we want it 
now . . . Oh, what a rude young woman!" 

"I know just what you mean," Elizabeth said to Armorel. "Only 
it might be worth your taking down the address, in case you think of 
seeing him any time." 

"Wait — I've masses of paper," Duffy said. "Here, tear some out 
of this, it's only my notes on the Theory of Wages and I never take 
any because I never can understand the man. No, listen — let's all go 
and see Mr Grist." 

"My dear!" said Elizabeth. "Three females in a covey!" 

"It won't damage him permanently. No, wait. What is today? 
But it is Monday!" 

"Should it not be?" 

"But today's the last of Mr Kelby's Gurney Memorial Lectures!" 
She was making calculations from her wrist-watch, she had to subtract 
eight minutes for each three hours since winding. "But if it was twenty- 
past twelve at one o'clock," she said distressfully, "it must be at least 
ten-past three now. And you can't get to the Victoria and Albert in 
under half-an-hour." 

"But, Duffy, why go at all? You said the earlier ones were so 
frightfully dull." 

"I know — that's why I must. The poor darling's such an elephan- 
tine bore that practically no one turns up." She had begun to grab 
for bags and books, her unusual hat was recovered from beneath the 
cushion on which Armorel was sitting, "Darlings, could you possibly 
forgive me? If this watch is gaining as much as it should do I might 
not be late until I'm nearly half-way there. If I'd started eight minutes 
ago I'd be less late than I was last time. By this watch, I mean. Rellie 
darling, do stay just where you are — do you mind frightfully if Eliza- 
beth gives you your tea? — I think the caddy must be on my bed, I 



SO 



was making a cup for the gas-man and I wanted to look up a quotation 
in Malachi." 

Elizabeth said: ''Go — bless you! Leave me to poison her." 
"Go on!" said Armorel. "Run! I'll come and see you again." 
From the window they watched her standing irresolutely on the 
pavement, still clutching her hat, looking vaguely about her as if 
something must be missing, a Newfoundland dog or her clothes. They 
heard her say, aloud, "But, my dear, what a dreadful thing to have 
done! " Then she was off like a mole in liquor, and as she tore round the 
bend they could hear her calling, "Stop! Oh, you beastly driver, do 
stop!" 

Elizabeth put a kettle on the gas-stove and sat down again. 

"Let's be comfortable for another quarter of an hour, then I'll 
make some tea, and then we might go and see if we can get anything 
out of this man, don't you think?" 

Armorel considered this. She said: 

"I think I shall go. But I really don't see why you should bother 
to come." 

"Would you rather I didn't?" 

"Oh, I'd love you to. Only it seemes absurd that you should 
trouble." 

In truth, she was in two minds. The Ardree affair belonged to her 
alone, she wanted to be in action, quickly and by herself. And yet 
there was temptation to keep Elizabeth as long as she could. For here 
was rarity, and here was a warmth she could not resist, because it came 
from the burning of old timbers. Her rebellion against all the presump- 
tions of seniority would not operate against this woman who wore her 
beauty like a scar. 

It seemed as if Elizabeth caught her thoughts. "I wish we were 
the same age," she said. She was looking at Armorel's hands, which 
had the grace of a child's hands rather than a woman's. "Just because 
I was born a few years earlier, everything I say sounds pompous. We 
can't quarrel on equal terms." 

"But do we want to quarrel?" 

"We've got to. You see, I'm against the whole of this Ardree 
business. I feel it in my bones that he's not worth it. That's really why 
I want to go with you, I want to hear what Grist says about him, and 
if it's bad, as I think it will be, I mean to rub it in. I want to stop you 

SI 



having any more unhappiness. And of course that's about the greatest 
insult one woman can throw at another." 

Armorel said: "I don't see that. But then, I know you're wrong 
about Gian Ardree. How could your guesses be more right than what 
I've heard and seen?" And she in her turn wished that their ages were 
the same ; it would have helped to fight this thing out on her own level. 
She said with all her gentleness: ^'I can't think why you should worry 
about it making me unhappy. It's terribly kind . . ." 

Elizabeth looked at her eyes. She said in the voice of every day: 
"I do know about Gordon Aquillard. Of course Duffy told me. Well, 
you'd realize — Duffy's affection for all of us is not a thing she can keep 
in pigeon-holes." 

They could laugh then. And Armorel said in a voice which felt 
admirably free from emotion: "It was Duffy who introduced us, of 
course. Here. He used to sit where you're sitting now." 

'T know." 

"However, that's history." 

"Is it? I don't feel, myself, that anything's ever past and done 
with. The past re-creates itself, one way or another. Sometimes we can 
influence the re-creation." 

"I don't think I understand." 

"I am no philosopher," Elizabeth said. "I'll make the tea — no, you 
sit still! — and then I suggest we go and see this Mr Grist." 



JLN THE largest room of Hollysian House Boys' Club, where the high, 
whitewashed walls were hung with railway posters and with coloured 
prints of the Florentines, an elderly man without one hair on his head 
was tugging at a pair of parallel bars. 

"Well, if he's anywhere Mr Grist would be in the library," he 
replied to Elizabeth. "He hasn't got no sort of proper office, get me." 
He was looking morosely at the bars and then at the rope above them. 
He wore a running vest and a pair of loose serge trousers, he appeared 
to have been planed and finished off with emery paper, you felt he 

52 



could only be entirely happy when pulling up trees. "Same thing every 
night," he said, "the moment I go down to see to the boiler the little 
perishers get hold of these bars and shove them under the rope so they 
can swing right across on to the box-horse. Well, that's all right if you 
know what you're up to, get me. And if you don't, well, they'll just 
break all their little ruddy necks." 

"Perhaps we could find Mr Grist," Elizabeth said, "if you would 
tell us where the library is." 

"It's this ruddy floor's the cause of all the trouble," the sergeant 
said. "If you was to get at that other end, both of you, and just give 
him a tug, when I say 'When', then I could lift him up out of this hole 
he's got stuck in." Automatically the women took up the position he 
gave them. "Mr Grist, he's not all that gone on having visitors," he 
said. "Leastwise, not lady visitors, get me. Now when I say 'Heave!' 
you just heave, only mind your toes. Not before I say. Now then — 
heave!" 

"Perhaps you could have a word with him," Elizabeth said after 
heaving, "and tell him it's something rather specially important we 
want to see him about. It's about a boy who's in trouble." 

"Now that will surprise him!" he said succinctly; and then, turn- 
ing abruptly, he marched to a door at the far end of the room, struck 
it violently and went inside. Over the plywood partition they heard 
him say: 

"Coupla tarts . . . say that one of the lads've got 'em into trouble, 
get me . . ." 

And they heard Trevon Grist say softly: "Oh, hell take all these 
bloody women!" 

But he received them with an overall of politeness clutched about 
his hostility. In the way of a man unused to women he put them side 
by side on a pair of hard folding-chairs and stood opposite them, lean- 
ing against a spray of crude, signed photographs, holding his lapels, 
only looking at them in furtive glances. At this second view Armorel 
found him larger in presence: the light came from behind him, his 
large, blond eyebrows like wire entanglements looked as if they had 
been taken out from the sparse hair on his skull. 

"I was in the Damien Street Court this morning," she told him, 
"when the case of Gian Ardree was being heard. I don't suppose you 



S3 



"No," he said, as if she were trying to sell him something. "No, 
I didn't." 

"It was rather an unsatisfactory case, wasn't it!" she said. 

"In what sense?" 

"Well, I mean, no real attempt was made to find out what sort of 
man they were dealing with. He might have been a thorough young 
hooligan, or he might have been a decent youth with a bit of a temper 
who just didn't realize the power of his own fists — the magistrate 
hardly seemed to consider the question at all. And since Ardree had 
got no one but a pack of clowns to support him he was bound to show 
in a worse light than he should have. That seemed perfectly obvious 
to me." 

"And to Cuddish," Grist said. "Cuddish is very far from being a 
fool, you know. He has these people coming in front of him all day 
long, he doesn't miss a great deal. Makes mistakes, of course, but 
then—" 

"You don't think that a man's character ought to be taken into 
account before he's punished?" 

"Character? Well, yes, if we know what we mean by 'character\" 
He looked about the room despairingly, like an honest sportsman sur- 
rounded by bird-lovers. "These young chaps," he said fumbling, 
"they're odd. They're neither the one damned thing nor the other. 
They're not children, so you can't treat 'em like children. Only they 
behave like that." 

The interview was dying from anaemia. Elizabeth made an effort 
to revive it. She said in her low voice, with something of a man's 
inflexions : 

"The point is this: we feel that something might be done to help 
this boy, and we thought you might give us some guidance. You 
may have records from the time when he used to come here — something 
to give us an idea what sort of young man he really is." 

"Records?" he said, as if she had used a foreign word. "I don't 
keep anything very much, you know. One hasn't got clerks and that 
sort of thing." He was smiling faintly, apparently at some old recollec- 
tion. He shambled over to the far end of the long, untidy room and 
unlocked the home-made cupboard there. "191 5, wasn't it?" he said as 
he rummaged; and at length, "Yes, Ardee, G., I've got something 
about it. Nothing to go on, really — facts are never anything to go on, 
there's nothing less important than facts. I mean, facts as one generally 

54 



knows them." It was still Elizabeth to whom he spoke; reading the 
paper he had found he went back and stood on her free side, with his 
hand on the back of her chair. " 'October '15, run in for smashing 
shofHwindow. Apparently three others concerned, with A as ringleader, 
but others got away. Reason given by A: rudeness of shopkeeper to 
his mother. Query manifestation of Latin temperament, though A pre- 
dominantly English type.' That's all I put down at the time. You see, 
one gets scores of incidents like that, it would be hopeless trying to keep 
a complete dossier." 

"So you really can't help us at all?" Elizabeth asked with patience. 

''Well, really, I'm afraid not." He took the paper and locked it in 
the cupboard again, unconsciously lit the cigarette which he had been 
putting in and out of his pocket. "You know, really," he said to Eliza- 
beth, "it's the sort of thing one does better to keep clear of. When 
these fellows get to the police court stage they're most fearfully tricky 
to handle. They don't see things the way you do. Someone gets a bit 
sympathetic and they take that as flattery — a great many of them. 
It's natural in a way. If one's pride gets damaged one looks round 
for something to straighten it out again. And if the treatment feels 
nice you may think it's worth having more trouble to get more treat- 
ment — especially if the treatment wears a skirt, if you don't mind my 
saying so. To be perfectly frank, I'd keep these lads a thousand miles 
away from women, except their own sort of woman. They know where 
they are with them." It was getting dark in the room. He suddenly 
shouted: "Flock! Kick up a light at this end — brace up! " The sergeant 
called back "Sir!" and the naked bulb dangling over the trestle-table 
put the room into garish light. "You'd like some tea or something," 
Grist said. "Flock!" 

Elizabeth had got up. "No, thank-you, we've had tea. You've got 
a wonderful collection of books — do people send them to you?" 

He turned away from her and looked disparagingly along the 
shelves which filled the whole of one wall. "I brought most of them 
from Wantage," he said. "I've got to keep them somewhere. The boys 
read some of them — peculiar, the things they do read. It's the Henty 
stuff that no one touches — they've got a sharp nose for anything healthy 
and they avoid it like the Black Death." 

"You live here all the time?" Elizabeth asked. 

"Yes — it's a very good place to live, you get no one interfering 
with you. And I get the best view in London." 



55 



He beckoned and she went to stand beside him at the window, 
which looked through a comb of masts and gear to the misted river, 
the glow of a locomotive's cabin moving near Blackfriars Bridge into 
the City's crenellated darkness. "I agree," she said. But while he still 
looked out, biting his lip as if with some peculiar excitement, she 
turned a little to watch his profile. The electric light showed him poorly 
shaved and his soft collar dirty. His blue suit was worn like a sack, 
and all the power in his head and hands, in the fine and angry mouth, 
was spoilt by the little, nervous movements which overran his body 
like an intermittent ague. "Of course," he said towards the river, "none 
of my perishing customers think this is worth looking at. Their idea 
of a view is something with a rosy-cheeked girl right in the middle of 
it." Then he turned to face them again, smiling a little grimly. 

He said: "If I get to know anything more about Ardree — anything 
of any interest — I'll let you know. I can't promise more than that. If 
you'll give me your address?" 

Elizabeth had automatically given him her card before she said: 
"But it's Miss Cepinnier who wants the information most." 

He said as he wrote down Armorel's address: "I have warned 
you, haven't I? You find very often that these fellows don't like an 
outsider butting in. They dislike people who don't understand their 
point of view, and if you want to understand that you've got to give 
your whole life to it." At last he was looking at Armorel, impersonally, 
like a student of zoology. But a moment afterwards he was speaking 
to Elizabeth once again, "You follow what I mean, don't you?" and as 
his eyes examined hers his mouth wriggled into its curious, rather 
painful smile. "You see, at all costs I've got to protect my lads against 
designing females . . . Well, I wish you'd tell me how to pick out the 
non-designing ones." 

The building was coming to life with the clatter of boots and the 
cannoning of brittle voices on the walls of the gymnasium with the 
pectoral bark of Sergeant Flock, "Now you just come away out of that 
to commence with, you perishing Higginson, I've told you a score of 
times, get me!" "We seem to be opening shop," Grist said with a note 
of disdain, perhaps of regret. But the echoing noises only emphasized 
the pervading chill and bareness, it was never a place where the gentler 
kind of intercourse could advance. He led them with gloomy embarrass- 
ment to the top of the stairs. 

S6 



The sense of physical exhaustion had returned before Armorel was 
back at Cromer's Ride. She got in with a key borrowed from Georgie, 
collected some biscuits from the kitchen and went straight to bed. 

• In the first, shallow sleep she was at Damien Street again. She had 
reached the witness-box at last, Mr Cuddish surveyed her coldly with 
Elizabeth smiling mysteriously beside him, all the faces stared at her 
with frozen menace while she tried to speak and no words would 
come. She looked in desperate appeal towards Elizabeth and Eliza- 
beth's face turned into Hosencroft's, it came towards her bodiless and 
she woke crying out with fear. 

A part of her mind stayed somnolent, so that the sharp, intaglio 
pictures were wrongly grouped. It was across the Court, now, that 
Trevon Grist spoke to her, it was he who stopped her from giving 
evidence. "I agree with Cuddish," he kept saying, with his glance 
straying towards her body but always avoiding her eyes, "Cuddish 
and I know how to deal with a man like this, we don't want any 
interference, we want to keep all females a thousand miles away." And 
because she knew that those were not his exact words she struggled 
feverishly, turning one way and the other till the pillow fell off the bed, 
to get them right. She ached for Gordon to come and help her: Gordon 
who could remember word by word some passage in a book he had 
read only once, who could have got hold of Grist and made shrewd 
fun of him and pinned him down; and once, from a spell of tears, she 
spoke aloud in her quiet, sensible voice, "Gordon darling, do tell me 
what he was saying, I can't remember, I can't decide whether he really 
meant anything until I know exactly what he said." Then she remem- 
bered that Gordon was four thousand miles away, that only Elizabeth 
had been there. 

And Elizabeth, distillation of beauty and understanding, the 
warmth of life breathing in steady pulse from the lineaments of deathly 
illness, Elizabeth was only an insoluble complication. 

A single day is nothing: that one as it receded would fall to the 
level of the rest and its train of small humiliations might vanish with 
it. In a few weeks the court-room would be blurred, Grist would be 
only a name. And could not Elizabeth, friend of a friend, the chance 
companion of a few disagreeable hours, be lost in that oblivion as 
well? Yes, if Armorel could wish it. But she wanted at least a different 
kind of parting, one where they stood level in fortitude and under- 
standing, equal in each other's esteem. Was that worth waiting and 



57 



labouring for? Only if Elizabeth herself were worth it: and that was 
decided not by reason, not by the value a mere collector would set 
on her eyes and voice, on the heat and power compressed within a 
vessel so slenderly wrought. It was settled by a need too simple for 
resolution, the desire to worship a flame, the hunger to be accepted 
but first to accept. 

With the night passing as prairie drifts across carriage windows, 
she had lost the day's objective: someone she had noticed in captivity, 
a man to whose rescue she had pledged herself, but whose name and 
features now eluded her grasp. It was Elizabeth who continually per- 
plexed her search, always the name and Spartan purpose that she 
hunted for were only just beyond earshot when Elizabeth's Hthe voice 
flowed in to thrust them further away. She knew that the voice could 
be stilled if her will demanded it. But in the grinding solitude she was 
frightened to lose its sweetness; ever, ever to leave this tenderness 
which kept her from the austere journey. 



B 



UT IN THE MORNING, though her head ached, her mind was clear. 
In a letter written three days afterwards, asking her cousin Raymond 
to advance some money, she said: 

I have made up my mind on this business, and I shan't alter it. 
I can't expect you, as a man, to understand my feelings — or rather 
my thoughts, because this is a question of thinking rather than feel- 
ing. I suppose the ordinary, 'sensible' view would be that one small 
act of injustice doesn't really matter. That's what I can't agree 
with. If I made excuses and let one incident like this go past I 
should gradually find myself taking others in the same way until I 
stopped feeling that injustice in general was anything to worry 
about. If, on the other hand, I go to war on this one case I shall 
at least demonstrate to a number of people who have power over 
the lives of others that their actions are watched and that there is 
always the possibility of trouble when they make slipshod and 
callous decisions. It may seem to you that I am making a fuss over 

S8 



something trivial, but I am absolutely certain it isn't that. Three 
months in prison may not sound anything much, but with a young 
man with deep feelings like Gian Ardree it's going to affect the 
whole of his life. I know that from intuition — and I refuse to 
beHeve that intuition is something to be pooh-poohed. After all, 
it's generally admitted that people's real character is too subtle a 
thing for one's mind to understand properly, so if intuition won't 
help you to understand it, what will? 

I don't care what this is going to cost me, in money or any- 
thing else. . . . 

She had already been to Cleward and Staiforce in Sackville Street, 
where she had insisted on seeing Mr Stephen Cleward himself. Mr 
Cleward was likely to be out most of the morning, the clerk said. 
Very well, she would wait most of the morning. Mr Cleward, when at 
last she was shown into his office, had the merit of not being paternal. 
He listened without interrupting, his hands folded on the table, his eyes 
occasionally rising to her face. Well, to begin with, he said, it would 
be mere folly to appeal against the verdict: from what she had 
told him, the fact that the accused man had deliberately struck the 
constable was not open to argument. But it might be possible to appeal 
against sentence. Candidly, he did not advise it. It would be a costly 
business, involving a great deal of preliminary inquiry, and it was 
extremely unlikely to be successful. However, if she was determined to 
go through with it he would get into touch with the solicitor who had 
defended at Damien Street, ask for his minutes of the case and start 
to explore the ground from there. 

"It looks to me, as I see it at present, as if there's only one pos- 
sible ground on which an appeal could be lodged — the mitigating cir- 
cumstance that the constable appears to have struck the boy's mother, 
or at any rate handled her roughly, just before the boy attacked him. 
It may be possible to argue that that fact received insufficient atten- 
tion . . . Character? No, it's generally very hard to get anywhere with 
arguments relating to character — character is something that can't be 
assessed, you will realize that there never was a murderer in court who 
hadn't been kind to his aged aunt and rescued half a dozen tabby cats 
from drowning . . . You say that your own memory of the whole inci- 
dent was perfectly clear? You were about how far away?" 

"Oh, quite close." 

"About ten yards?" 



h 



59 



"Oh, more than that. Perhaps thirty or forty yards." 

"But you distinctly saw the constable strike the woman?" 

"No, I shouldn't say that he struck her. He grabbed her and gave 
her a sort of shake." 

"I see . . . Now, can you tell me whether this young man is likely 
to consent to the appeal?" 

"Oh, I should think so. But that doesn't really matter — I'm going 
to put up the money myself — " 

"Yes, but actually it does matter. It's impossible to lodge an appeal 
unless the defendant has signified his consent." 

"But there would surely be some way of getting over a technicality 
like that. Isn't that what lawyers are for?" 

"No," he said gravely, "it isn't the business of lawyers to evade 
the law. People think that, but it isn't so." 

"Then do you mean that everything's got to be held up until that 
point has been settled?" 

No, the preparation of the case could go forward in the meantime. 
And, after all, it need not take very long to communicate with the 
governor of the prison, who would take steps to ascertain Ardree's 
wishes in the matter. No, there was nothing to be gained by Armorel 
going to the prison herself, it was very much better to follow the recog- 
nized procedure. No, really, at the present stage there was nothing more 
that she could do. 

Except to write a date and an address on his pad he had hardly 
moved throughout the interview: he waited now, embarrassingly mo- 
tionless, for anything further she might wish to say. 

"I do want you to realize," she said, "how very important this is 
to me. I've no personal interest in the young man — it's for a different 
reason altogether. There's nothing private or feminine about it, it's a 
matter of one's public responsibilities." 

Yes, of course, Mr Cleward entirely understood that. There would 
be no unnecessary delay in putting the matter in train. 

Two days later she was in town again, in Whitehall Crescent, where 
Sir Walter Dibel received her with kindness. Yes, he had been intending 
to write and ask if there were any news of her father. She must not give 
up hope. Arthur Cepinnier was the sort of man who did not die, he was 
sui generis, he was too rare a being for the world to lose. It was a time 
of hopefulness, was it not — the crocuses would be showing before very 
long in the Embankment Gardens. Was she fond of gardens? Ah, to him 

60 



gardens were everything, every year he longed more intensely to turn 
his back for ever on London and devote himself to his half-dozen acres 
at Maresfield. He hoped she would visit him and Lucia there sometime. 

". . . Yes, I'm certain you've done the right thing in putting the 
whole business into the hands of a first-rate solicitor — oh, yes, Cleward 
has a very high reputation . . . Ah, no, you see, so long as the case is 
sub judice one can't make any movement through a parliamentary 
channel. If you do decide in the end to try and get the matter venti- 
lated, then I think your proper course would be to go to your own 
member. Who would that be, now — yes, of course, Dickie Spears. Oh, 
you couldn't have anyone better than that — ^he's a most human crea- 
ture, I don't know anyone who takes more pains over people's little 
personal problems ... I'll tell you what — you might see if you can 
get an interview with Rupert Ingoyne. No, I don't know him personally, 
but the London magistracy is rather up his street ..." 

This London was full of vacuum-operated doors and of secre- 
taries, guarding on either side from public freedom and from private 
safety a limbo of oil-cloth and inquiry windows, unhomely smells and 
presentation calendars, a silence like the silences of warfare, under- 
lined by a distant chatter of keys, broken by strident bells and voices 
siphoning from doors that swung and shut again. The phrases with their 
standard intonations were soon familiar, 'I couldn't rightly say when he 
would be in.' 'He never sees nobody after dinner,' 'Perhaps if you was 
to write a letter first of all ! ' She endured this outlawry, because she had 
learnt from the experienced that every campaign is nine parts boredom. 
She was polite and guarded, sensible, ruthlessly tenacious. With the 
male watch-dogs she behaved as courteously as with their owners, 
refusing the more comfortable chairs they wanted to sacrifice to her, 
willing to do everything except get out of the building. Even with the 
women secretaries she was nicely mannered, "Yes, I understand per- 
fectly, I can imagine what a job it is to keep him free from interrup- 
tions," her voice always gentle and persuasive, only her eyes hinting, 
with a shade which they could appreciate, that all the secretaries on 
earth would never deflect her from her purpose. The fruits were small: 
Mr Praed would give her a personal introduction to Mr Macdonald, 
who was on the committee of the Weston Steward Legal Aid Associa- 
tion, Mr Grievish would write a letter to Colonel Finnestall: but the 
seeds were being thickly sown, some must fall at last on fertile ground, 

^ 6i 



she could not believe that there was no reward for an unwearying 
resolution. 

On the Friday evening, returning to Cromer's Ride exhausted from 
the day's pilgrimage, she found a letter in a foolscap envelope: an 
island of chaste typewriting enclosed by gigantic margins: 

We are advised by the Spenwick Prison Authority that the 
prisoner Gian Ardree withholds his consent from the filing of an 
appeal against the sentence awarded at the Damien Street Court 
on the gth instant. 

We regret that we are therefore unable to act further in the 
fulfilment of your instructions. 

On each of these evenings when she came home late some dinner 
had been kept hot for her. The gas-stove in the dining-room must not 
be lit again, since gas had become one of Edie's favourite economies: 
so O'Connor with the countenance of mutiny brought a tray to the 
drawing-room. It was not a comfortable hour. The elder women sewed 
while she ate and talked spasmodically of their overlapping worlds; in 
a nervous fashion, like players at forfeits, the aunts asked her questions. 

'T suppose it's still quite difficult in town to find a taxi?" "I sup- 
pose you see a lot of idleness, with men being demobilized — are there 
many signs of discontent?" 

For them it was not easy, since their niece's actual occupation in 
London could not be discussed at all. 

In one afternoon of bitter warfare, conducted with pale, taut faces 
and in voices hardly above a whisper. Aunt Edith and Armorel had 
reached an understanding; and the understanding was wholly in Armo- 
rel's favour. In future she might come and go as she pleased, and she 
was not required to state her business: the only stipulations were that 
she should not be away for the night without special sanction and that 
she should not 'become in any way involved' (which phrase they both 
sufficiently understood). 

What other result could Edith have achieved, in those days of 
enfranchisement, against an opponent who within her aura of gentle- 
ness had become as granite-willed as a Protestant martyr? What weap- 
ons had she to use, now that the force of her own will, gathered in her 
white lips and the grey, unwavering purpose of her eyes, was met by 
one which did not even flinch before it? Incapable of empty menace, 
she could not threaten to make her brother's child homeless. The little 



62 



money Armorel had was her own, and a girl of twenty could not be 
sent to bed for disobedience. There was a means by which she could 
have found out all she wanted — might even have won herself the chance 
to interfere. A few simple sentences were all she needed: 'Darling Rellie, 
I'd do anything in the world for your happiness. I see my baby brother 
in you, and that makes you more precious to me than anything I pos- 
sess.' But she was an Englishwoman born in '65, and for her, the 
betrayal of an intimate emotion was more impossible than physical 
immodesty. She could only say, in that livid interview which had left 
her with a whole day's torturing headache, "Yes, I know you did exactly 
what you wanted when you were a student. And do you honestly think 
the result was a success?" 

The dust which the battle had stirred hung in a still cloud, in a 
region so sequestered the climate had no wind lively enough to disturb 
it. Poor Georgie, in those days, was often in her own room and on her 
knees, letting the burden of her distress flow out in tears, longing for 
the skill to turn her thoughts into prayer. Then she would sponge her 
face, and creep to the top of the stairs, hoping to get down to the 
morning-room without meeting Edie on the way; and somehow it hap- 
pened again and again that Edie emerged just then from the kitchen 
passage, and immediately glanced upward. 

"Is there something you want, Georgie? Are you feeling all right?" 
In such a passage their mother took no part. But as usual, she 
knew more than they supposed; more, indeed, than they knew them- 
selves. To a cousin of a younger generation she wrote at that time: 

My dear ridiculous Edith is again in conflict with Arthur's child. 
How I wish these people would come to blows, or at least shout at 
each other with good Protestant curses — I find Edie's sulks so 
monotonous. It appears that Armorel has fallen in love again, 
which Edith finds shockingly unnatural, never having had any deal- 
ings with livestock. This time the fortunate gentleman is unfortu- 
nate enough to be serving a term of imprisonment for housebreak- 
ing, or some kindred indiscretion. (My information comes from 
Walter Guestward, a tedious person on whom Arthur used to lavish 
his wayward charity, and whose handwriting would disgrace a 
board-school child.) My granddaughter is hotly occupied in extri- 
cating him from this predicament; she argues, I presume, that if 
iron bars do not a prison make they are at least an intolerable 
obstacle to courtship; and she is so sanguine as to imagine that this 

63 



straightforward reasoning can be impressed upon those members 
of your Sex who have the general ordering of our lives and conduct. 
I see no use in interference. For myself — if a disintegrating memory 
still serves — I was never inspired to a grande passion by any mem- 
ber of the burgling fraternity; but I belong in age to a vanished 
century, in spirit — as far as I can judge — to an extinct millennium. 
It may be that the New Age of which they speak in the news- 
papers, and which seems to be coming upon us like dandelions in 
the spring, is to find its generative force in an alliance of the orna- 
mental with the criminal classes. At any rate it appears to me quite 
useless for my dear Edith to prowl round the entanglement like 
a pussy-cat outside a fish-shop on early closing day. I did my best 
to make her see the folly of such tactics when Armorel was in 
pursuit of an adulterous tutor. Do you, by the way, happen to 
know whether she is persecuting anyone to lend her money? . . . 

The house, large as it was for the needs of five women, kept them 
too close to each other; its very quietness was a growing irritant. Had 
they been separated for a while, even by the breadth of an English 
county, the genius of their earliest friendship might have flowered 
again: the days of tobogganing at Standle, the joyous evening of Ger- 
trude's return from London, when the girls had stayed up till midnight 
to see their mother put on her Presentation dress and waltz all round 
the drawing-room, those memories, tinted with warm and lively colour- 
ings, were covered now by the insidious growth of many seasons, and 
with them the graciousness which they engendered was lost. Remotely, 
affection remained. Not seldom, each would have revealed it. But like 
the paralysis which falls on men before photographers a curtain of 
inveterate reserve came down upon the kindness they would have shown. 

And what can it mean to Edith, Georgina thought, this wild be- 
haviour of Rellie's! — nothing, except inconvenience, and a slight on 
her ludicrous self-esteem as virtual mistress of the house, the controller 
of everyone's comings and goings! To Georgina it meant so much more 
than that. She had believed that her friendship with Armorel was 
slowly deepening. The child had been someone to talk to, a personality 
of new, delicious fragrance, and willing at times, as their acquaintance 
ripened, to reveal her private thoughts with a freedom she would never 
show to the others. That phase was over now and perhaps it would 
never return. Armorel showed her no less sweetness; had increased, 
perhaps, in thoughtfulness of behaviour, in quickness to pay little atten- 

64 



tions to the comfort of them all and especially to hers. But if Georgina 
gave some innocent lead — "Is everything going on all right, Rellie?" — 
the girl would flutter into safety like a robin upon a careless movement 
of its tamer. "Oh, yes, Aunt Georgie — yes, I've nearly finished the little 
coat I'm knitting for Christine's baby." 

Late on the evening when Armorel received the long envelope (the 
envelope which Edith had vainly held up against the hght, while Geor- 
gina watched her through the keyhole), she slipped along in her dress- 
ing-gown to her niece's room. 

"Rellie — may I come in? Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't really want to 
disturb you — I just thought that O'Connor might have forgotten your 
hot-water bottle. She does forget sometimes, she doesn't really think 
about her work." 

She stood unhappily just inside the door, which she had not the 
courage to close behind her, and blinked towards the lamp by which 
Armorel was reading. The child had surely grown thinner, she thought, 
seeing her in her night-dress; thinner and almost haggard with fatigue. 

Armorel said: "Georgie darling, you'll get cold! It was sweet of 
you to think about the bottle." 

But Georgina could not simply melt away, leaving to the winter of 
loneliness this perfect blossom which seemed to droop from lack of sun. 
The sight of such weariness, a face so numbed with disappointment, 
suddenly broke the fetters of her timidity. 

"Oh, Rellie — Rellie darling, I was going to say — couldn't you 
have a day at home tomorrow? Or perhaps we could go into the coun- 
try — I can walk quite well if I put on my old shoes — we might find 
somewhere to have tea. I wouldn't gabble all the time. You're looking 
so dreadfully tired." 

Armorel slipped down from the bed and kissed her. "Georgie dar- 
ling, you're so awfully kind!" The voice was a little husky, but per- 
fectly in control. "But I'm not really tired at all. And tomorrow I've 
got a job to do. It's frightfully urgent. Georgie, I'm so awfully sorry! 
Only I've got to get on with this business, I can't let anything stand 
in my way." 

The waiting-room again; the worn oil-cloth, the chairs placed as 
a child sets out his dominoes, the chocolate dado; and this time the 
high sash-window looked on to a stiff pattern of vegetable plots and 

6s 



asphalt paths, a barracoon of iron-roofed huts and chimneys. The 
smell, forbiddingly, was that of school. 

The deputy governor, the deputy governor's personal assistant 
said, saw visitors only by appointment; an appointment could be ap- 
plied for through an officer of the Prisons Division of a grade not lower 
than assistant principal. "I have a letter from Sir Rupert Ingoyne," she 
told him frigidly, holding that verbal accuracy will justify all ambigu- 
ous implications. Knowing Ingoyne as the kind which beams on every- 
thing it sees and then falls into a passion about notice boards or 
swill-bins, the personal assistant let her stay. 

And at ten to two, with her stomach chattering from hunger, she 
was led through a grid of passages to an austerely handsome sitting- 
room. 

A little, compact man in a light-grey suit, with a bow tie which 
carried on the colour of his brilHant eyes, put her into a chair with 
archaic courtesy. 

". . . Since half-past ten!" he said with distress. "My dear young 
lady, I can hardly bear to think of your looking at such a view for all 
that time. I'll tell you a secret — I'm biding my time. One day I 
hope to have all that nonsense swept right away. I shall have a pond 
in the centre, with water-lilies; a semicircle of borders on this side, 
always blazing with flowers — especially tulips in the season, there is no 
other flower with quite the perfection of the tulip — and at the far end 
sweet-peas, with a screen of rambler roses behind. That will do some- 
thing to hide those horrible laundries and things. I don't know if the 
clients will really like it — I think they may. Now tell me, of what 
service may I be to you?" 

His eyes remained upon her face, he nodded attentively all the 
time she was telling him her business. But she could not help imagining 
that the image which really occupied those kindly, eager eyes was made 
up of tonsured lawns, of statuettes and fountains, aubretia leaking 
from the cracks in crazy paving. "My point is," she concluded, "that 
in all probability Ardree did not in the least understand the question 
when it was put to him. For example, he may very well have thought 
that the appeal would cost him or his parents a great deal of money, 
and that would naturally have made him refuse. I suppose it was some 
kind of warden who saw him, and one can't expect a man like that to 
have any special skill in explaining a legal matter. I imagine he just 

66 



said 'Do you want to appeal or don't you?' And he may even have 
said 'It'll save a lot of bother if you say No.' " 

Colonel Dewip waited for some time before he answered. His eyes, 
at last, were straying surreptitiously towards the window. It was the 
curse of both Adam and Eve, she thought once more, that Adam was 
made a gardener. 

"But in fact," he said, "I saw Ardree myself. I had quite a long 
talk with him — he was sitting where you are now. I liked him. He 
agreed with me about tulips." 

"Yes, but about the appeal!" she said swiftly. "I'm quite certain 
that when I see him myself I shall be able to put the whole thing in a 
different light. I can make it clear that I'm going to bear the entire 
cost myself — " 

"But — if I may interrupt — you're not allowed to see him." And 
now, almost with relief, she caught sight of the official in him, the 
man — the thing — she had to fight, in all these offices, beneath all these 
urbane exteriors. "The regulations about interviewing prisoners are 
very precise," he said, "and on the whole — I may say — remarkably 
sensible." 

His voice was still pleasantly pitched, he still wore his courtly 
smile. But now she perceived the tensity in the structure of his mouth 
and chin. 

She said: "Yes, but surely regulations have to be interpreted in a 
rational way — " 

" — I agree! — " he said. 

" — ^and isn't the whole idea of putting highly qualified people in 
a position like yours just so that they can cut through red tape accord- 
ing to their own judgement?" 

"I think you've slightly over-simplified the question," he answered. 
"However, I don't want to waste your time discussing generalities. The 
essential fact is this: in my judgement it would be very improper, and 
very harmful, for you or anyone else to try to influence Gian Ardree 
towards altering his decision. The issue was made entirely clear to him. 
He was given ample time to consider it. He has now made up his mind, 
and it might make him very unhappy if someone pretending to better 
judgement tried to make him alter it." 

"Unhappy?" she repeated. "I can't believe that anyone can be 
happy by just submitting to things." 

"That's not exactly what I mean," he said. He looked for a mo- 

67 



ment or two into the palms of his hands, as if they carried notes for 
a speech. "You know, there's one element in the mentality of certain 
delinquents that a great many people overlook — the delinquent's own 
moral sense. His conscience, if you care for old-fashioned words. One 
minute, may I finish, please! Nearly everyone who's ever sentenced in 
a court of law feels a sense of outrage to begin with. A great many go 
on feeling it for the rest of their lives, and those provide society with 
one broad species of problem. But there are some who gradually come 
round to admitting the rightness of the sentence, or at any rate that 
there was some rightness in it, and those people quite often want to 
go through with the punishment. They know they've done something 
wrong, and they want to expiate it. Now you may think that's very 
naive and out-of-date — you may even call it atavistic. And yet, you 
know, the more I see of human beings the more I doubt whether those 
labels help us much. But perhaps I'm being rather obscure?" 

"But of course not!" she said, and smiled. All her manners were 
equal to his. "But I don't think I ought to take up any more of your 
time." 

Throughout the interview she had sat straight up in her chair, col- 
lected, attentive, with her skirt carefully smoothed over her knees. She 
stood up now. 

"I really only wanted to ask you the one question," she said, 
" — whether you would allow me to see Ardree or whether I should 
have to apply to the Home Office first." 

He nodded. "I think I've answered that." 

"It was very kind of you to see me," she said. 

*^I hope we shall meet again," he answered. 

"I think perhaps we may, at a later stage." 

Back in the Sidcup Road, where the morning's drizzle was turning 
into rain, she remembered seeing a tea-shop a little way down and 
started walking towards it. In the minute that followed she was very 
close to final defeat. If Gian Ardree cared so little for his own cause, 
there was practically nothing to be said for continuing the struggle. 
She had made her protest. It was manifest that she could do no more. 

It was perhaps the noise of the street which interfered with that 
decision, perhaps a breath of wind which carried a smell of railway 
into the street's locked, moistened air. For an instant only she was back 
at the corner of Contessa Street; for an instant in some dream of a few 
nights back, where the face of Ardree had stared at her piteously from 

68 



the angry shadows, and she had called in answer, "I won't let them 
harm youl" In the courtroom she had known exactly where her loyalty 
should lie: not with the ones commanding the puppet show but with 
those who were fastened to the strings. And now, when all that people 
seemed to want of her was to accept their kindness, to gaze at charming 
views from cosy chairs, that loyalty could almost be dismissed as an 
illusion. Yes; and in that fashion, at such a moment as this, causes 
were lost. This was the place where so many had steered off into safer 
waters, to be praised for easy, creditable sailings; and where a few, 
regarding safety as less endurable than the whip of north-east gales, had 
shoved the tiller the other way. 

She was opposite the tea-shop now. She did not cross. A bus was 
approaching, townward, and she stopped it. An hour later she stood in a 
wide passage, with the clamour of Whitehall traffic dulled by the rain 
driving on the high windows. Yes, her business was extremely urgent. 
No, she had no appointment, she had come straight from Colonel 
Dewip, with whom she had been in conference all morning. No, she had 
business elsewhere tomorrow. Yes, she was perfectly prepared to wait. 



T 

JLh./ 



HAT AFTERNOON, Elizabeth Kinfowell sat in the waiting room 
of the Old Brompton Hospital, continuing a letter to Gordon Acquil- 
lard: 

'The doctors say that Michael is making satisfactory progress,^ 
Elizabeth had written, 'but oh it's so terribly slow I If only I could 
have him with me all the time — but he's not well enough to be moved 
yet, and I comfort myself by saying that it may be better for him to 
be in the hospital. He is in the public ward so that he can see other 
children — I think that's better than his being in a room of his own, with 
no one about but nurses. I spend as much time with him as they will 
allow. But a hospital staff is not easy to get on with. Of course the 
poor dears are terribly overworked, and leading that sort of life they 
develop — most of them — a rather stylized attitude towards other human 
beings. I think they are perfectly right — ^you can only keep on top of 

69 



a job like theirs by cultivating a wholly professional outlook. But 
sometimes when they talk as if they owned Michael, and when they go 
on and on in a haloed-martyrish way about all the trouble his irregu- 
larities give them, I do feel a childish and disgraceful longing to seize 
them by their natty little white collars and bellow into their faces, "Yes, 
and it took me eleven hours to get him into the world, and that wasn't 
such tremendous fun either!"' 

Those last sentences would have to come out: it was needless and 
perhaps harmful to say anything about the eleven hours. In any case 
the words were barely legible, for she had written them as the train was 
going over the points at Swindon. 

It seemed as if this letter would never be finished: there were so 
few opportunities for concentration. Daytime was crowded and full of 
complications: the hospital put her outside its doors at intervals con- 
venient to itself, and in those intervals she had to deal with Henry's 
requests (which were tantamount to orders) at breakneck speed. Henry 
wanted her to see old St Pirouell, to get hold of Edward Manaton and 
persuade him that Henry still maintained an eager interest in the affairs 
of the Boettger group. A long letter sent her in haste to Shropshire: 
Henry had decided to return early next month, bringing the Nicholedds 
with him, and he wanted Easterhatch got ready, with the Winchester 
Room arranged for Hilda Nicholedd, who would be enchanted by the 
view of the Welsh hills. A telegram followed, reaching her only when 
she got back to London: Henry had changed his plans, he was going 
on to Rapallo with the Nicholedds. . . . And more than ever, now, she 
felt the moral obligation to see that Henry's wishes were fulfilled. 

'I think you would like to know,' she wrote, 'that I have met 
Armorel. She came to have lunch with Duffy, so of course we were 
introduced. She is a very, very sweet girl, so young and lovely, and yet 
with such character. I instantly fell in love with her myself.' 

That sentence too would want altering — as it stood it might 
suddenly kindle memories which would pain him. But the most difficult 
part was to come. She had to tell him that, in her coolest judgement, 
his return to England would only lead to the bitterness of a fresh disap- 
pointment. She wanted to persuade him that this opinion had no taint 
of prejudice, that it was absolute and final; yet in making the judge- 
ment as hard as a concrete wall she still wanted to lessen its hurtful- 
ness. The task would have been easy were she ready to show a tender- 
ness of her own; but such an intonation would instantly make him 

70 



distrustful, it might even recall him to a more remote unhappiness. 
She went to the window to shake her pen into the courtyard, and started 
writing again. 

'I want to explain, though it isn't easy, exactly what I think her 
feelings about you have been and are now. You must remember, first 
of all, that she is very young — though mature in some ways — and has 
always been with people who accept certain moral laws with complete 
simplicity, people who don't recognize such things as white lies and 
cannot conceive the idea of a "good" person hiding the truth from 
someone who is supposed to have all their love and confidence. When 
a girl with that sort of background stumbles upon a different attitude — 
and actually finds it in the very man she worships — she suffers a shock 
far greater than — ' 

The smell of carbolic suddenly increased, and there was Nurse 
Wimple in the doorway, immaculately white, selling the hospital's 
efficiency with the steady smile which radiated from her rather large 
premolar teeth. 

"His Lordship is ready for you now, Mrs Kinfowell!" 

"Oh, Nurse, how awfully sweet of you to come and tell me!" 

"Only this morning I don't think you ought to stay too long," 
Nurse Wimple said, steaming ahead along the corridor. "You see Mrs 
Kinfowell, these wee preciouses do get so worked up over visitors, and 
then that means such a terrible business trying to settle them down 
again. I didn't realize yesterday you were staying quite so long — I was 
seeing about something in the other ward — Sister was just a wee bit 
waxy. You don't mind my just mentioning that, do you, Mrs Kinfowell? 
Sweet little kiddie, isn't he! Highly strung, of course — perhaps he's 
got a daddy who's highly strung? You can always tell when they're 
highly strung, you know. They want a lot of looking after when they're 
highly strung, you know, Mrs Kinfowell. He's like you to look at, 
isn't he?" 

"I'm afraid it's terribly exacting work for you," Elizabeth said, 
"dealing with such a very small person." 

"Well, of course it is when they're highly strung. But you know, 
Mrs Kinfowell, I've always been gone on kiddies. I don't mind how 
much I do. Now you will be careful you don't do anything and get our 
little Lordship excited, won't you, Mrs Kinfowell!" 

He lay hotly more across the bed than along it, his eyes closed, a 
little pool of dribble on the pillow. Elizabeth sat down noiselessly, not 



71 



touching the crumpled hand which lay stretched out towards her. In 
these visits it was often the best moment, this when he first saw her 
there. She would not hurry it. 

"I expect His Lordship's having a little sleepybyes," Nurse Wimple 
whispered across two beds, and Michael opened his eyes. 

He was puzzled for a moment, and then the smile came. Grate- 
fully, Elizabeth put the hot small hand to rest on top of hers, and his 
fingers started feeling for her rings. With that he seemed to be content 
for a time and she stayed quite still, smiling, although she was in a 
position where her pelvic weakness gave her pain. Only when he began 
to move his head, murmuring a little, did she lean over to raise his 
shoulders and shift the pillows. 

''Perhaps Nursie had better see to that!" Nurse Wimple said, 
darting from the other side of the ward. "You've got to be careful how 
you move them, you know, Mrs Kinfowell, when they're like that. 
That's where the training comes in, you see. His Lordship wouldn't like 
it," she said to Michael, "if he got back all the horrid pain again, 
would he nowl Lovely smile, he's got, hasn't he, Mrs Kinfowell! Funny 
— he always smiles like that for me!" 

"It's so kind of you!" Elizabeth said. 

And indeed the girl's hands were perfectly skilled, for he lay in 
comfort now, only wriggling his stomach now and then, and murmuring 
a little, in response to some pain which must come from within. He 
stayed wide awake, no longer smiling, but with his brown eyes following 
any small movement that Elizabeth made. He had his father's mouth. 
And in his meditative regard she could imagine she saw a mind already 
reasoning; so that, when the nurse had gone, she found herself speak- 
ing to him with her lips: "Better now! Getting better all the time! 
Mummy will take you home soon — Mummy's never far away! " instinc- 
tively expecting him to make some kind of answer. Once or twice, in 
that hour, he did speak, a little: a single word each time. But the words 
were shapeless, they died as the flame of a match dies in the wind, and 
the small mouth, collapsing, was left for a time with a tiny crease in 
the upper lip. Only she would have noticed that, recognizing the crease 
which would show in his father's lip when the exact word had failed 
to come. 

The pain he suffered was perhaps very slight (and trivial compared 
with hers, for the bed and the chair she sat on were at awkward levels) ; 
and his suffering would not have hurt her so intensely could she have 

72 



told him how it came, have talked to him of a happier time ahead. 
Better, she thought, if she had seen in the quietly following eyes only 
a consciousness too dull for any understanding; but these patient eyes 
were not an animal's, beyond the irises' reflection of the ward's high 
window she seemed to see a stirring like distant smoke in an autumn 
haze. In that mysterious landscape she imagined she saw fragile 
thoughts moving as her own moved, however unskilfully; she could 
even suppose a mind which said "I know I am your son." This was the 
essential misery of all these hours, when she sat smiling and sometimes 
stroking his thin, bare arm with the tips of her fingers, when the 
crackling starch and a ceaseless flurry of competence up and down the 
ward reminded her that she was a trespasser: to see this other mind so 
close, to feel so fiercely the right of possession, and yet to have no 
ground where his understanding could accompany her own. 

He stretched his chin as a man does when his patience is over- 
loaded. He moved his shoulder restlessly, and she leaned across to 
arrange the blanket in a shallow bridge which would relieve him of its 
weight. He sighed then, and his curiosity seemed to increase. He raised 
his head, his left hand slid towards her, but his right hand like a prudish 
escort came out to draw it back. With a struggle he kept his head up 
for several seconds before it tumbled back into the pillow. He cried a 
little then, but the sobs quietened as if a door had been pressed upon 
them, as if he were ashamed of crying. "Michael!" she whispered, 
"precious Michael — are you blaming me for giving you life?" and for- 
getting in one moment that the nurses were never far away she took 
his hand, she gently opened it and filled it with her kisses. Michael 
watched her patiently, and afterwards his solemn contemplative eyes 
fell to the tear she had left on his arm. 

Nurse Wimple was wafted to the bedside like the quick and healthy 
winds of October. "There's a call for you, Mrs Kinfowell — they've 
put it through to Sister's room." She swooped on the blanket and re- 
moulded it round Michael's shoulder. "Oh, you bad bag of sixpences — 
how did you get your naughty blanket all like that! . . . You know 
your way to Sister's room, don't you, Mrs Kinfowell?" 

Elizabeth knew it. This had happened before. 

"Oh, Mrs Kinfowell," Sister Edds said over her shoulder, "per- 
haps you'd tell your friends that the hospital isn't supposed to take 
calls for patients' visitors. The rule applies to rich and poor alike," 
she added. 



73 



"I really am most terribly sorry, Sister." She took the receiver. 
''Duffy darling," she said, "I'm awfully sorry, but I must tell you — 
unless it's something terribly important you're not really allowed — " 

"But, darling, it is! Something really frightful has happened!" 
and there was in Duffy's voice an anguish which made Elizabeth picture 
her surrounded at that very moment by leaping redskins. 

"Darling, I am so sorry!" Elizabeth said. "Did you leave the 
scones in the oven too long?" 

"It's worse than that! It's a man. He came and wanted to see 
you. I said you were out." 

"Duffy, how drastic! What sort of man?" 

"My dear, a ghastly man. He had on a sort of blue suit, and one 
of those hats made of — ^you know — " 

"Felt?" 

"Yes — but listen, the really frightful thing is this, he wanted to 
know where you'd gone to." 

"Yes?" 

"And I wasn't thinking, and on the spur of the moment I told him." 

"And what did he say?" 

"He said, 'Oh, that bloody plague-house — I avoid those places as 
much as I cani' " 

"Well?" 

"I thought you ought just to know." 

"Well, that's terribly kind of you, Duffy. Only another time — 
perhaps not actually telephone. You see, it has to come to the Sister's 
room, and she's so kind, only she's terribly overworked and she's got 
such a load of responsibility. . . . Thank you so much, dear, for 
ringing." 

At the door of the ward Nurse Wimple was standing like a var- 
nished Cerberus. "We can't see His Lordship just for a wee while, Mrs 
Kinfowell. His Lordship's having one of his little busy times. You 
know the way to the waiting-room, don't you, Mrs Kinfowell?" 

Elizabeth did know. 

With a sense of frustration she started to work on her letter again. 
No, it would not do. She tore off the sheet and began a fresh one. 

Duffy says that in your letter to her you talk of coming back in 
June, although the job is interesting and lucrative and might go 
on for another year. Well, now that I've talked to Armorel you 



74 



may like to have my views — and I do want you to believe that 
they're absolutely honest. 

There were heavy footsteps in the corridor, and upon the hospital's 
many muted noises there broke a man's loud and petulant voice: "I tell 
you I have not come to see a patient! I've come to see a woman who is 
seeing a patient. I don't care one hoot in hell about your blasted regu- 
lations." The door swung, and Elizabeth realized what Duffy had meant 
about the hat. Here it was, on the head of Trevon Grist. 

"Ah yes," he said, as if he were making an arrest, "you're the one 
I want. You won't remember me, my name's Grist. You came to" see 
me with a person called Miss Cepinnier." 

"But of course I remember. Won't you sit down?" 

"This Miss Cepinnier," he said, continuing to stand, "I don't 
know anything about her — I take it you do?" 

"Well, she's the friend of a friend." 

"Oh, is that all?" 

"And a very sweet girl. Not a very happy one." 

"Oh— why not?" 

"Well, for one thing her father's missing." 

"Ah, that improves matters. I mean — I always think people aren't 
much use until something fairly unpleasant has happened to them. 
I don't suppose you'll understand." 

"I do, as a matter of fact. Won't you smoke?" 

"You see," he continued, mechanically accepting the cigarette and 
lighting it, "I will not have a lot of sentimental curio-hunters flapping 
round my boys. They're too good for it. People don't realize— they see 
them lounging about the place and spitting on the pavements, they 
think they're just a lot of uncouth children. They're not. In some ways 
they're about three times as adult as the Kensington article — and often 
a damn sight more virtuous. They cheat and they tell fibs, because 
that's the way one keeps ahve, down at their level. But they do things 
for people, they've got an automatic kindness, it doesn't have to be 
pumped up or even rewarded." 

She interrupted: "But listen, I don't think Armorel had any inten- 
tion of flapping around. She only wanted — " 

"Armorel?" 

" — Miss Cepinnier — she merely wanted to get Ardree's case re- 

75 



heard. She felt he'd been very harshly punished and she wanted that 
put right." 

He nodded grimly. 

*'Yes, evidently, by what Cuddish tells me — the beak who put 
him in jug. Friend of mine, Cuddish. She's been sending him letters 
which could get her into prison herself." 

"Oh. I didn't know that." 

"Luckily for her, he's a better-tempered bloke than I am." He sat 
down at last, not on the chair but on a table covered with medical 
journals. "Look, this is Cuddish's idea, not mine. He came to see me 
about it last night. What he said — roughly — was that if Miss Whatsher- 
name thinks Ardee's an injured innocent she'd better do something 
practical — not just go about blackguarding other people like himself." 

Elizabeth said: "Something practical — such as?" 

"Well, you probably realize — or you may not — that with these 
delinquents everything depends on what happens to them when they 
come out of the clink. My job as a rule is to get 'em back into the 
Club, then there's some hope of getting 'em civilized, one way or an- 
other. Old Flock does most of it. Well, Cuddish wants to improve on 
that. He thinks that with a bloke like Ardree a woman might do more 
than a man can. If she's the sort that'll put her mind to it. He thinks 
we want a woman stuck in somewhere in the Club. Personally I think 
he's cracked, but he happens to be one of the Trustees. And incidentally 
a hell of a good bloke." 

"Tell me," Elizabeth said, "have you found out anything more 
about Ardree since we saw you?" 

"I've been to the place where he works," he answered, staring 
gloomily at his boots. "They've nothing against him there, except that 
he's not too friendly with the other blokes. They used to chip him 
about being a dago — because of his mother, you see — and he wouldn't 
stand for it. Gave one man a hell of a hiding, and then it stopped. Does 
his work all right." His eyes followed the smoke of his cigarette as if 
the subject of Ardree bored him. Then, suddenly, he faced her again. 
"You, what do you think of this crazy notion of Cuddish's?" 

"That's not a very simple question." 

She was trying to rein her galloping thoughts, thoughts which 
always dragged towards Gordon. Few men could be less like Gordon 
physically than the sulky giant who stood now, with his back against 
the window-sill, challenging her with his faintly insolent eyes: 

76 



The taut, sprung body of Gordon Aquillard had always seemed too 
slender to contain his nervous violence, and here was one which had 
swelled without resistance until the play of nervous forces, lost in its 
immensity, could agitate only the small slack muscles of its surface. 
Yet what Elizabeth saw was their kinship, their friendlessness, their 
common insufficiency. "People fail because of their dependence," 
Gordon had once told her (sitting on the tail-board of the waggon, 
staring angrily at the rocks above them). "Saul of Tarsus brought 
Christianity to Europe," he had said (kneeling on the floor in Duffy's 
sitting-room, sharpening a pencil into the fireplace), "because he never 
let himself be sidetracked into intense relationships." And now this 
Trevon Grist, with his mission to protect the boys of Lambeth from 
interfering ladies, here was this seedy pedagogue gyrating awkwardly 
about the Ardree bush when all the time his real interest was in 
Armorel herself. Elizabeth had realized that on their visit to his club. 
She knew (how well!) what effect a body like Armorel's had on men 
of the monastic kind, she had noticed how austerely he kept his eyes 
away. And he should not have her now; for Armorel was Gordon's, and 
what could Elizabeth do for Gordon, for Gordon's unfathomed power of 
loving, the bitter loneliness in which all his talents were starting to rot, 
if she could not restore her to him in the end? 

"Listen," she said. "You want my own opinion about Armorel?" 

"Yes." 

And she had the answer ready phrased, beginning, 'I'm perfectly 
certain that she's not the right woman for dealing with a young delin- 
quent.' But she never said it. 

It was inveterate honesty which warned her that the phrase itself 
was false before it escaped. How could she say whether Armorel was 
fitted to handle delinquents or not? She paused, and the day's tiredness, 
the gathered tiredness of all the months since her pregnancy with 
Michael, swept up on her like the first sweet fumes of chloroform. Why 
attempt to set the course of others' lives, when she had achieved such 
small success with her own! This shiftless, blustering man might expect 
her to make up his mind for him, but Armorel had no such indecision. 
To Armorel — as Elizabeth had found her — the allotted course was 
marked with ghostly flags to be accepted with a child's dreadful sim- 
plicity. What use to argue or protest, to explain the complexities of 
what she had left behind or to warn her that men of an intrinsic 
structure less stable than Gordon's might be found along the road she 



77 



had chosen. She was faintly influenced, perhaps, this tired woman, by 
an impulse of her own; for the desperate hopes we have once clung 
to can make their magnetism felt long after we have thrust them 
away; but she was not conscious of this tenuous, insistent drag when 
she hesitated, changed the conformation of her mouth and said with 
the same sincerity: 

"Well, I'm certain of one thing — ^you won't find another girl with 
more fundamental honesty, or one with more courage." 

''Are you?" he said tersely. "That's interesting. Well, I may fix 
something, I may not." 

And without even a gesture of leave-taking he marched away. 

Nurse Wimple was at the door again. 

"Now, Mrs Kinfowell, if you'd like to come along! Only it 
mustn't be more than five minutes this time — then it'll be time for His 
Lordship's little din-dins." 



8 



% 



owARDS THE middle of June, Elizabeth was writing: 

My dear Armorel, I had thought of writing before to remind 
you how much I hope that we shall meet again, but I fancy you 
have not much patience with letters which have nothing in them 
except what you know already! 

Mr Grist — who came to see me some time ago — tells me in a let- 
ter that he has some suggestion to make to you about Gian Ardree. 
I don't know if you will be pleased or not — I remember that you 
didn't much care for Mr Grist when we saw him. Personally 
(though I suppose one shouldn't judge a man on such short 
acquaintance) I doubt whether he's a person I should care to have 
much to do with. He may be ail right with other men, but he 
talks about women in such a contemptuous tone that one suspects 
he is hankering after them all the time, in a way one would rather 
not be hankered after! I think I myself should prefer to approach 
Ardree through any other route but the Grist highway — and I fancy 
you will see what I mean, whether you agree with me or not! 



78 



But probably the Ardree chapter is over, since I gather he has 
finished his sentence and therefore nothing more can be done about 
it. You won't be offended if I say how much I admired your courage 
in trying to get what seemed to be an injustice put right. I've 
never been the sort of person to attempt anything like that, and 
I wish I had. I suppose I belong to the nineteenth-century type 
of women, the sort who said 'I'm sure these things are much better 
left for our husbands to deal with'! Still, having resigned myself 
to mid-Victorianism I have the Victorian woman's consolation — 
the belief that we can sometimes do more by loving one man 
intensely and almost blindly — the one who loves us — than by 
passing the wisest laws or starting the noblest revolutions. 

Duffy has just had another letter from G.A. — I don't see 
why I shouldn't tell you. Much the same as the last one, but more 
fervent still. How I wish there was some way of cancelling parts 
of history — I mean, making it not to have happened. If only that 
was possible there would be such happiness for you, I feel, within 
your grasp. Armorel dear, I should so love to know that you 
were happy . . . 

Almost every sentence in this letter had the effect which Eliza- 
beth had hoped to avoid. It fortified Armorel's decision. 

Trevon's postcard, scrawled in f)encil, had told her of Ardree's 
release a week before. ^ . . I imagine your interest in the case was 
purely juridical, but if you are still interested in the man himself (who, 
I may say, does not seem responsive to influence of any kind) you may 
like to call here again.' The card bore no address or date, was signed 
illegibly and miderstamped. 

It is nonsense to say — as relatives were saying a few weeks later, 
and were to repeat in years to come — that at this stage Edith Cepinnier 
could have prevented what occurred had she been a little more percep- 
tive and more resolute. Let it be granted that Edith (though of sharper 
understanding than people realized) was limited in her powers of sym- 
pathy: can it be seriously argued that a woman of subtler perceptions 
would have succeeded where she failed! If the course of lovers is unpre- 
dictable, how much more so the way of those whom the furious current 
of love no longer carries. "I simply cannot understand it!" Edith re- 
peated, that September day when the news came; and that was largely 
true, because in the fifties, with the bold light of late afternoon making 
all the landscape clear and steady, one remembers little of the sensa- 



b 



79 



tions of immaturity. Yet surely, thinking with her blood, as the Ger- 
mans say, she did obscurely realize that Armorel had faced some kind 
of challenge; and perhaps she had realized in the same way that the 
power of her own good sense would be mere feebleness against the 
fierce resolution which such challenge provoked in her brother's child. 
And after all, what objection could she have made to what was 
broadly described as 'social work'? If Armorel was not to return to 
college it was time she had some definite occupation. Hollysian House 
seemed to be a thoroughly estimable institution, with the names of sev- 
eral clergy, including a bishop or two and a well-known headmaster, 
appearing on its stationery: the proposal that Armorel should work 
there as librarian in the afternoons and evenings, leaving at half-past 
eight and getting home before ten, was reasonable enough by post-war 
standards of convenance. Presumably one or other of the bishops would 
look in from time to time to see that everything was respectably man- 
aged. Gertrude had made no objection, beyond saying that it sounded 
'rather prosaic'. And in any case it was only a trial arrangement, of 
which Armorel herself might soon grow tired. 



/3he was at the job for more than four weeks before she saw Gian 
at all. Every now and then Trevon told her that he was doing his best 
to get the fellow along to the Club: he said it sometimes impatiently, 
sometimes with a grudging note of apology. One afternoon he informed 
her quite casually that Ardree had been round the night before, a few 
minutes after she had left. But patience was not a discipline to which 
she was unaccustomed. 

The building was an exhaust-chamber which muted all the sounds 
except its own. The shouting and the noise of hoofs on the granite sets 
of the wharf, a compact uproar from the traffic of Kembury Street, 
the gobble of tugs in the tideway, these came as recorded sounds 
through an instrument faultily tuned. Within, the place was a romp- 
ing ground for echoes, which the many partitions at both ends of the 
gymnasium only distorted, so that the ear was always confused about 

80 



distance and direction. Flock's grunt as he polished the taps in the 
lavatory often sounded as if it were just outside her door. The scraping 
of Trevon's chair, his nervy cough, came to her as acutely as if the 
party-wall which Flock had laboriously constructed between her room 
and his did not exist. Like the city's voice, daylight came circuitously 
and enfeebled. In the library, with its small high window facing the 
wall of Thomson's repository, you were but faintly aware of the day's 
lightening or darkening; and in the second week of July, when the 
heavy clouds which had long protected the city from summer, were 
pushed apart for a few hours, she was astonished, going out for some 
cigarettes, to find the yard broken into a pattern of shadow and sun. 

On most afternoons a negligible person known only as "Slimey" 
came, who was understood to be a tradesman. He would hunt out a 
chisel from his gladstone bag and perform some desultory operation 
on a wall bar which had got loose, or climb on a ladder and fiddle with 
a window catch, while Flock, for once neglecting his own work, stood 
with hands on hips at the other end of the gymnasium and monoto- 
nously abused him. "Call yourself a ruddy carpenter! Coming up for 
tradesman's pay, I s'pose — 'performed his duties with efficiency and 
zeal'. Blokes like you, I s'pose, what built the perishin' Empire — take 
the whole of a ruddy fortnight to get a perishin' screw put in, and then 
he don't know what he done with the ruddy screwdriver." From Slimey 
himself there was never any reply, except a noise like that of a locomo- 
tive shunting. But occasionally Trevon would go off like a two-pounder 
gun: "Flock! You obfuscated acrobat, why the devil can't you get on 
with your own job! Leave Slimey alone, blast you! How do you expect 
the poor blithering nincompoop to use the twopence-halfpennyworth of 
mother-wit God gave him if you're chipping in all the time!" "Very 
sorry, Mr Grist, sir!" Flock would roar. "Didn't know as how you 
were having romantic thoughts, sir. Wonderful the way a bloke gets 
romantic thoughts, come this time of year, get me. Writing poetry, 
perhaps you was, sir!" "Flock! Hold your vulgar and revolting tongue!" 
But in this masculine ritual the voluntary librarian had no part. And 
when shop opened, and fifty voices were trying to shout each other 
down in an endless tourney of revilement, her sense of isolation only 
increased. They came into her room in ones and twos, as shyly as if she 
were naked. The way they spoke to her varied between shame-faced 
incoherence and flashes of nervous impudence; they jostled each other 
and went off into furtive giggles, there were often heavy whispers of 

8i 



''Dare you! and "Get on — the tart won't eat you!" before the door was 
wrenched open and an under-sized boy, violently projected, landed like 
a carcase at her feet. "You, you perishin' Bakewelll" Flock would bawl 
from the other end of the gym, "don't you know better'n that the way 
to treat a lady!" and from his own room Grist would shout: "Flock! 
Get hold of that yahoo and teach him some manners! " "You must have 
tripped on the floorboard," Armorel would say politely to the new 
arrival. "Now what sort of book are you after? — I've got a new index 
in this box over here." She was never hustled, she treated them all with 
the courtesy which the Boots girls show to imbecile old ladies. But the 
plywood wall which fenced her from the gym remained a moral as well 
as a physical barrier. She belonged to the furniture of the library, and 
the library had ceased to be part of the Club. 

"I've been wondering," she said to Trevon, on one of his rare visits 
to her table, "do you think my being here is a nuisance to the boys? 
I mean, do you think it spoils their freedom — do they feel they've got 
to use less bad language, and that sort of thing?" 

"I shouldn't think so," he said gloomily. He stood with one foot 
on top of the other, biting his thumb-nail and staring at the home-made 
filing cabinet to which she had given so much labour. His shyness was 
constantly returning, he was like a novice actor in her presence, not 
knowing what to do with his eyes or hands. "No, I can't really see 
that it makes any difference. But of course, if you're finding it all a 
fearful bore — I mean, I realize I still haven't got hold of this Ardree 
fellow you want to look at — " 

She said quickly: "No, it's not a bore. So long as I can feel that 
I'm being some use." 

"Oh, of course!" he said. "Yes, it's useful having someone to do 
my bits of typing. And this library business. Only when you get fed up 
with it you've only got to say. I mean, I got along all right before." 

"I shall stay for a year, anyway," she told him. 

"A year? Good God, you can't stand a place like this for a year." 

*Well, you have. Much longer than that." 

"Yes, but that's not the same thing. I'm paid for it, it's my job. 
Besides, it's a habit I've got into." For a moment he actually looked 
into her face, as he said defiantly: "I like it, if it comes to that. I 
always imagine that one day I shall be able to do something with some 
of these God-awful boys." 

"Unless you turn me out I shall stay for a year," she repeated. 

82 



She thought that in some peculiar way he liked to have her there. 
At least he paid some attention, in his brusque, nonchalant fashion, to 
her comfort. He said one day, almost as if blaming her: "You're not 
getting enough air in here. I'm having that window enlarged as soon 
as I can get hold of a builder. The Club'll have to pay up — it's all non- 
sense their supposing they can run this place without spending a sou on 
it." Then he complained about her chair: "You can't sit on a chair 
like that — I told Flock to find you something else. Flock! Flock — for 
God's sake take this chair away and burn it. Get Miss Cepinnier the 
chair from my room, the one from my table, I can use that other thing." 
He found her a table-cloth from the dramatics chest, and a piece of 
carpet. "It's no good pretending this place is fit for any civilized person 
to work in," he said morosely. "Shall I tell Flock to stick in some 
flowers or something? I don't know anything about flowers, I've never 
bought them ... Of course, when the trustees bought this mausoleum 
they never thought of having a woman about. Nor did I, for that 
matter. Can't do anything about the draughts, I'm afraid. All this build- 
ing does is to split 'em up. Oh well, you wanted to come!" 

Most of their conversations took place in the gymnasium. As often 
as not, when their ways crossed, he would walk straight past her, frown- 
ing as if the congestion of traffic vexed him. But sometimes he turned 
back and called abruptly, "Oh — Miss Cepinnier!" then stood with his 
eyes fixed on the wall-bars, making her feel that she had committed 
some act of sabotage. 

"Oh, Miss Cepinnier, that fellow — what's his name? Ardree — I 
saw the manager of the place where he works this morning. They say 
he's not being any particular trouble, not at present." 

"But— has he been?" 

"Well, he threatened a man who made some joke about him in the 
canteen. That was just after he got back. He's not misbehaved himself 
since." 

"You don't think you can get him here fairly soon?" 

"No, I doubt it." He climbed up on the parallel bars, sat on one 
and leant back with his hands on the other. "You can't hurry these 
things," he said, with a note of irritation. "Some of them, of course, 
they charge into the Club the moment they're released. Almost expect 
us to get the band out. The other sort don't want to see anyone they 
ever met before. It takes time to get them out of that. And after all, 
he's a free man, he can't be forced to go anyhere he doesn't want to." 

83 



She said: "I realize that. Do you think it would be quite wrong 
policy for me to go round to his home?" 

"I do!" he said emphatically. "When a chap's got himself slightly 
mucked the last thing he wants is any sort of improving person barging 
in at his own front door." He lowered himself to the floor and made 
off towards his room. "Well, I mean, do as you like! I don't advise it, 
that's all." 

Just a week afterwards she spoke to Gian for the first time. On an 
evening when business was slack and she was reading La Revoke des 
Anges in a corner of the room she looked up to see him standing by the 
table. She knew him at once. 

"Yes?" she said. 

"I want a book, miss, Mr Grist said I was to come here and get a 
book." 

"Well, now, what sort of a book?" She had moved over to the 
fiction stack, where she stood half-turned, ready to follow the customer's 
wishes or to make suggestions: it all came very easily as she went 
through the practised routine. 

"Well, I don't know," he said. 

"Do you like stories, or real life? Look, this is rather good, most 
people like this one." 

She gave him The Broad Highway. He opened it in the middle, 
looked at it dumbly, shook his head and handed it back. He did the 
same with Barlasch of the Guard, The White Company, The Emperor's 
Candlesticks. In every gesture he was the faithful copy of a dozen other 
boys. 

"Book about gardens?" he asked unexpectedly. 

In one movement she took a pace along the shelves and stooped to 
get at the bottom one, while he watched her as if he had paid for ad- 
mission. There were four of them in: Amateur Gardening for Profit, Be 
Your Own Greengrocer, Practical Gardening for Towndwellers, Bed- 
sell's Horticultural Calendar. He looked cursorily at them all. 

"No, not that sort," he said. 

"Well, it's all I've got in at the moment. Perhaps you'd like to 
take some other sort of book for now, and come back another time. 
There are some other gardening books which are out at present." 

He shrugged his shoulders, "I don't care, miss, really," and turned 
to go. That tempted her to her first venture. 

84 



"Your name's Ardree, isn't it?" 

"Yes— why?" 

"I thought it must be. I hadn't seen you here before, and Mr 
Grist told me about you." 

"Told you what?" he asked. 

"Oh — it was just when we were going through an old register — I 
saw your name, and he said 'He hasn't been round for some time.' " 

"Yes," he said, "they all keep checks on y'." 

"It's a nice club, isn't it! Everyone's so friendly." 

"I suppose so," he said, and went away. 



10 



FEW DAYS LATER she was Writing to EHzabeth: 

1 am so ashamed of not writing before to thank you for your 
sweet letter. I was interested — I need hardly tell you — to have 
news of poor Gordon. I'm very sorry that he is unhappy, I hope 
he will soon find something (or someone) to make him forget about 
what happened last autumn. I wonder, though, whether he can ever 
be really happy — isn't it true, as some of the philosophers say, 
that happiness depends on singleness of mind? — and I don't see 
how you can be single-minded once you've started covering your 
tracks. But as I say, I don't in the least want him to be miserable, 
especially as it's more than likely that that other girl, whoever she 
was, was chiefly to blame at the beginning. One knows how girls 
did get hold of men when they'd been through the strain of fighting. 
But I don't see how one can blame her for his being dishonest 
afterwards. Well, I'm glad I've got other things to think about, 
since brooding doesn't do anyone any good. 

Elizabeth dear, we must meet sometime and have tea or 
something together. I've been meaning to com.e to the flat and see 
you both, only I've been so fearfully busy at Hollysian House. 
Oh, but I haven't told you — I did take on the job that Mr Grist 
was offering. I really wanted a job of some kind. I'm so sorr>' that 
he bothered you about it — why ever should he? But of course he is 
a queer man, as you say. Actually he's really very simple. (And 



^ 



8s 



at bottom, I should say, religious — the two things rather go to- 
gether, don't you think!) He is rather pompous and spasmodically 
sentimental-r-I think he probably made a mess of some love-affair, 
in the dim days of yore — full of good intentions, morbidly fright- 
ened of girls and hopelessly bewildered by boys. I should think he 
must have been an only child, with a large, fierce, angular mother 
who made him brush his hair before every meal (so he hasn't 
brushed it since she died) and really the poor dear would be much 
happier if she were there to bully him still! 

I have had some contact with Gian, but I haven't got to know 
him yet. It's better not to rush things, anyway. As I expected, the 
prejudice against him continues — not much is said, but it sticks out 
a mile. Certain people are very anxious to justify themselves — 
when the Contessa Street incident happened they immediately con- 
cluded that he was a dangerous ' savage and dealt with him accord- 
ingly, so now quite naturally what they really want is to prove he 
was a dangerous savage and still is (especially as they've probably 
heard about my raising the matter in rather high quarters)! 
Actually he is not quite normal at present, you can see at once 
that the experience of prison has left him nervy and with a deep 
sense of injustice. But in general he's very much like the other 
boys who come here, only extra large in body and in a way rather 
good-looking, and his accent's slightly different — better, I think. 
I fancy he's got quite a good brain if it could be developed. What 
he wants is to be interested in something positive, if possible 
something which will help him to improve his position. Of course 
it won't be easy, but if I wanted an easy life I'd spend the whole 
of it at Cromer's Ride! I know that I was a failure over Gian 
before — I was determined to get his case re-heard by a competent 
judge, and I was beaten. But that doesn't mean I'm going to be 
beaten always. I believe that in the end I can show the great Mr 
Cuddish and all the others that the man they light-heartedly threw 
into the dustbin was worth something — that they were wrong and 
I was right . . . 

She had, in fact, seen him just once more. Early one evening 
Trevon, passing her in the gymnasium, had said over his shoulder, 
"Ardree's down in the yard. He doesn't want to come in, apparently.^' 
At once she had put the library in charge of 'Nibbley' Toms, a boy 
with the face of a facetious otter who was always ready to stand-in, 
and had gone outside to the telephone-box at the corner of Bait's Lane. 

86 



There, pretending to make a call, she watched him. He was only a few 
yards away, leaning against the side of a railway truck, hands in 
pockets, an unlit Woodbine in his mouth. His clothes were striking, 
the shirt of brilliant canary yellow with a rash of triangles, the green 
scarf zigzagged with mauve, a light-grey cap violently checked with 
blue: but his attitude was so like that of a dozen others who lounged 
about the yard, lacking decision to go up to the Club or over to the 
Frobisher, that without forewarning she might scarcely have noticed 
him. At that distance he did not look wretched or even bored: he was 
detached, faintly amused by his detachment, impregnable: when he 
spat on the rail it was a gesture without significance, like the flourish- 
ing of handkerchiefs in Regency plays. She left the box and approached 
him boldly: 

"Good-evening! You were asking me about gardening books — 
I've got a new one in, only just published. Would you like to come up 
and see it?" 

Not even moving the cigarette he stared past her at a lorry 
manoeuvring on the other side of the yard; he might have been an 
astronomer intent upon some rare conjunction, she a small boy pester- 
ing him for cigarette-cards. Then some current in his mind made him 
grin, but the grin had faded long before he spoke. 

"No, thanks." 

"Well, I'll keep it for you," she said, "and next time you're up 
there you can have it." 

He nodded, as if she had repeated a lesson correctly, and went 
on staring over her shoulder. Already three or four children had left 
their game of Five Stones at the other side of the yard to form a com- 
pact audience a few feet away: they stood quite still, flimsy and tar- 
nished copies of the human model in their elder brothers' and sisters' 
clothes, devouring the spectacle of a bloke and a tart noodling with the 
empty curiosity of cattle. But Armorel was not put out. In her day- 
dreams there had been bright pictures of the coming encounters with 
Gian, artistically designed and informed with purpose: but she had 
known that reality was made from less tidy patterns. Something in his 
grin encouraged her; whatever thought had provoked it, the grin was 
not contemptuous; and though the still eyes, watched closely, had no 
light for her, she thought they were neither dull nor inhuman eyes. 

She said: "I don't blame you for staying outside on a lovely eve- 
ning like this. I get an awfully cooped-up feeling myself, sometimes." 



k 



87 



He said: "Yeh, nice weather." 

"An evening like this I'd like to go on the Thames, on one of 
those steamers." 

He considered this remark, actually examining her face, as if she 
had spoken of walking barefoot to Halifax. 

"What for?" he asked. 

"Well, to see the scenery." 

"There's nothing of that sort," he said, and again he suddenly 
grinned. "You won't see nothing but houses. You can see them where 
you are now." 

She laughed. "Yes, but nicer houses!" 

"You can have the whole lot," he said tersely. "There's too many 
houses, if you're asking me." 

"Well, people have got to have somewhere to live!" 

"Uh-huh?" 

"You're obviously not a Londoner!" 

"Who said I wasn't?" 

"I only guessed — Londoners can't see anything much wrong with 
their own city. At least, they always long to get back to it. Would you 
like to live in the country — work on a farm or something like that?" 

"Nobody I know, in the country." 

The lorry, having dumped a load of deals, was coming towards 
them in reverse, intending to turn into Bait's Lane. The children, 
London-wise, stood like a terra-cotta group as the tailboard came 
towards their backs. All at once Gian let fly with his voice. 

"You — come out o' that!" 

The children, who had plenty of time, were away like lizards, but 
he wasn't satisfied. Brushing past Armorel as if she were a gate-post 
he strode to the front of the lorry and as it stopped opened the driver's 
door. 

"You!" he said in a voice like a blow-flame, and for a dreadful 
moment she thought he would hit the man. "D'd' you see them fuming 
kids? Where's y'bloody eyes! . . . knock y 'bloody face in next time!" 
Satisfied — to her relief — with that, he lit the cigarette at last, spat, and 
sauntered off with a schoolboy dignity in the direction of Kembury 
Road. 

That had been a disappointment. Their next meeting was more un- 
satisfactory still. 

It was several evenings later that she caught sight of him in the 

88 



g3minasium, leaning against the wall-bars. He was in the same clothes, 
his cap and the cigarette at the same angles: he might have been moved 
up in one piece like a toy soldier from his former position in the yard. 
She had the new gardening book all ready and she took it out to him. 
She said: "I'm so glad you've come! Wasn't it stupid of that 
lorry-driver the other night— I really believe he'd have knocked those 
children down if you hadn't shouted to them." 

The time lag before he could lay his mind on her remark was 
one she expected now. Waiting, she was aware that the uproar in the 
gymnasium had slackened perceptibly, that the tall Ormison and the 
inseparable Fidgley brothers were staring; but she had grown impervi- 
ous to such attention. 

"I told him," he said. 

With sudden audacity she said, "You know, I was half-afraid you 
were going to sock him!" 

His eyes wandered away between the heads of the Fidgleys. He 
sniffed, as if a waiter had brought him something slightly rancid; and 
announced from the corner of his mouth: 
'T don't hit a bloke for nothing." 

"Of course," she said quickly, "the children would have been a 
good deal to blame themselves. Really, they seemed to be quite deaf 
and blind," 

"Well," he answered surprisingly, "a kid's not to blame if it's blind 
is it!" 

"No, I didn't mean really blind. I meant they were just dreaming." 
■ "Not much to dream about," he said. 

This was an impasse, and she turned to the book she had for 
him. "Look, I think you may find this quite interesting. It's got awfully 
good diagrams— even I can follow them, and I'm a perfect fool at any- 
thing like that." 

He glanced at the book and put it on a bar beside him. He said 
at large: "I've got to see Mr Grist." 

"I expect he'll be free before long," she told him. "Would you like 
to come and wait in the library? It's a bit more comfortable." 

"I got a message he wanted me to come." 

"Yes, well, I'll tell him as soon as he's free. He's got some visitor 
at present— I think it's some sort of police inspector." 

He turned to strike a match on the wall behind him and Ht his 
cigarette. "I know," he said. 

89 



II 

O HE HAD to wait till the next afternoon for a chance to discover what 
it was all about. As soon as Trevon came in she went to his room and 
tackled him. 

"Mr Grist, was it something to do with Gian Ardree, the police 
coming here last night?" 

"It was/' he said, and began paring his nails. "I've been expecting 
it — I don't like his present behaviour, and I don't like what they say 
about him at the Hibbage Lane depot. He's being very sullen and some- 
times offensive." 

"But that's not a crime." 

"NO; but screwing up the door of a man's room is — when the man's 
inside and hasn't another way out. Especially if you've already smashed 
a window to get in and broken up a piano to use for the job. Or if it 
isn't a crime it's an unneighbourly act. I mean, you can do that sort of 
thing at the older universities, but they don't approve of it round 
Lambeth." 

"But did Gian do that?" 

"That's the question. Somebody did — and they did it to a deputy 
foreman from Hibbage Lane. Man called Empire — fellow Ardree's in 
contact with every day." 

"Yes, but—" 

"And moreover a fellow that used to work alongside Ardree, and 
got put up higher while he was in jug. A man that Ardree doesn't like 
— he's threatened him more than once, with half-a-dozen other men 
looking on." 

"But is that all the connection they can find?" 

"Well, yes and no. He wasn't at home the night it happened — his 
father's let that out, though the mother said he was — and the story 
he tells about his movements sounds to me like a flabby story. Also he 
had a cut hand when he got to the depot next day." 

"And that's all?" 

"Just about, I think. In fact, I rather doubt whether they'll prove 
anything — or whether they'll bother to go on trying, now they've given 
him a fright." 

"So you're certain he did do it — you yourself?" 

"No. I just think it's ninety-nine per cent likely." 

90 



She was angry then; but she kep>t her voice in control. "You know, 
I wouldn't have thought it," she said, ''I thought that was a thing of the 
past, dogging a man who's made one mistake, suspecting him of every- 
thing the police can't account for. That's what it is, isn't it! The police 
don't like it because one of them got hurt, and now they're out to catch 
him with anything that comes along. And so are you, as far as I can 
see." 

"No" he said. "I can't speak for the police, but I'm out to catch 
him before he's caught, which is different." 

"But if you're taking it for granted the whole time that he's a 
hopeless criminal — " 

He interrupted sharply, but actually lowering his voice. "No, not 
hopeless. That's the point. Not a criminal either, if it comes to that — 
I use that word for a man who commits crimes, not just for a man who 
has an inclination to commit them, which we all have, one way and 
another. I suppose you wouldn't believe it, but I'm actually rather fond 
of Ardree — " 

"I don't even pretend to be fond of him," she said, "I don't believe 
in being sentimental about these boys. I merely believe in getting at the 
truth about them." 

"But can you?" he asked. "Can you get at the truth about people 
you're not fond of?" 

"I don't see what you mean." 

"No, well, it doesn't matter." 

He had evidently reached the evasive stage, and she would not 
waste more time with him. But as she was going he called her back. 

"Look here — Miss Cepinnier — I want you to realize, it wasn't my 
idea your coming here, it was someone else's in the first place." 

Whose? she wondered; but it was more dignified not to ask. 
"Yes—?" she said. 

"So I'm not altogether responsible for the present state of things, 
though I am partly — I thought it was worth trying. If I'd imagined 
that Ardree was going to be quite like this I'd never have let you come 
— he's much worse than I thought he was going to be, he looks to me 
damned dangerous. And I know what I'm talking about, I know what 
men can get up to when they've got something on their minds." 

"So do I." 

"No, if you'll excuse me, you don't — you don't know the first 
damned thing about it. Anyway, the point is there's nothing you can 



91 



do for him. I can't get really close to him myself, and you've got much 
less chance than I have — that's in the nature of things. If you did by 
any means get into his confidence at all — well, it might land you in one 
hell of a mess. You may understand what I mean and you may not — " 

"So you want me to clear out?" 

"Yes — I'm sorry — " 

"But you can't make me." 

He stood up and looked at her thoughtfully, as a tailor might. 
Then he said, with a sudden, tired anger, "Oh, for God's sake!" and 
sat down again, facing his table. Over his shoulder he said: "Miss 
Cepinnier, will you, please, at least do me the favour of taking an eve- 
ning off. Yes, I can dish out the perishing books myself. No, I haven't 
any letters for typing, I've only got the hell of a headache and a lot 
of work to do." 

She understood, now, that his whole attitude came from a niggling 
jealousy. This tiny realm belonged to him: his oddity and grossness, 
the smell of his belongings, his capricious ardours and frivolities, made 
him not only its ruler but a very part of its texture. The boys accepted 
him because he was only a summary of themselves; and taking that 
acceptance for the highest loyalty he had resolved that it should shine 
towards him alone. Realizing that he himself lacked the essential sym- 
pathy to do anything with Gian, he was terrified of seeing a mere 
woman overtake him. Perhaps he noticed that in the last few weeks the 
library had become more popular. That alone could have started his 
resentment; and because he had no means to halt the tide which flowed 
from him to her, because she herself had never flattered him as the 
boys did, he had to relieve his vanity with a growing insolence, hoping 
to send her packing before she won the whole of their allegiance. 

Very well! This evening she would do as he wished. 

She had arranged already, on the 'Bespoke' shelf, the lately re- 
turned books which boys had specially asked for, each with the appli- 
cant's name on a protruding ticket. She set out the new register with 
the date-stamp she had bought herself, a brief, typed instruction 
(. . . Member's number only in Column 2 . . .), the Suggestion Book 
open and dated, the special index to the month's magazines. She put 
new nibs in both the penholders, saw that the inkpot was filled to the 
right level, straightened the corner of the table-cloth and went out into 
the maturing afternoon. 



92 



A discreet telephone-call to the Hibbage Lane depot got her the 
address of Empire, the deputy foreman. She decided impulsively to go 
there on foot. 

This city was not made for summer. It is plaited with machinery 
which cannot repose. The trains pass at the height of bedroom windows, 
or a little below your garden fence; with the doors and the sideboard 
constantly trembling from their violence you cannot feel that the year 
has reached fulfilment. In high, overhead light the river itself loses 
nobility. The odour that follows people coming out of the tube is one 
that should belong to winter, like the smell of a bakery; it joins the 
odours of exhaust and benzine, which the heat makes fatiguing, and 
when there is little wind the close, high chffs of dirty brick will keep 
these bilious airs as an inverted tank would. If the sky is hazed, which 
is natural with the London sky, and there are no hard shadows, you 
have the sensation not of summer but of November noon cooked with 
an oil-stove. You sweat all day long in clothes unsuitable for sweating, 
and the sweat is soiled. 

The passage to which a man had guided her was a series of elbow 
bends; she had lost all sense of direction by the time she came to a 
slightly broader street. A tobacconist at the corner had some idea how 
you got to Bidault's Place, through another passage under the railway; 
''If that's the place you're after!" he added, biting his small moustache, 
absolving himself from all responsibility; and the little, elderly woman 
with Irish eyes whom she consulted next was sure that Bidault's Place 
was where Mr Jenkins had lived before he moved to another part, the 
name of which she could not remember; they could only look, the 
woman said, and continued at Armorel's side, dragging beside her the 
forlorn terrier which she had on a piece of cord. 

The regular approach to these was from the north side. At the side 
where Armorel arrived you reached them by a passage which cut 
through the centre of Coronation Building. The sign, 'To Bidault's 
Place,' had been covered by a cocoa plate. The other sign, 'Commit no 
Nuisance' spoke of people who could not read. 

"That's right," the boy leaning against the wall told them. 
"Through that hole, hold your nose and keep straight on." 

The drab street she was leaving, remote and self-occupied, its pulse 
enfeebled by the dead weight of the sultry day, was still connected 
with the known world: a sweeper's barrow with the borough arms 
stood there, at the far end you could just see the red flash of a bus 



93 



passing. To enter the passage was to cross a last border. Sounds 
changed, as when a tuning knob is turned; the air, cooler here, fetid 
and still, closed in upon her like an anaesthetist's mask. For one moment 
she hesitated, turning to look back at the street; and her eye caught its 
title, Mickett Lane. 

The door of the first house was open, showing a workshop of some 
kind, the entrance cluttered with empty bottles and a mangy cat. She 
put her head inside. "Can you tell me which is Number 3?" From a 
litter of leaking mattresses and chairs stripped of upholstery a sallow 
foreigner emerged in his undervest, blinking towards the daylight. 
"Number 3?" He shrugged his shoulders, his furtive eyes behind steel 
spectacles looked past her, calculating escape. "Who is you seek?" he 
demanded. "I'm looking for a Mr Empire," and he directed her at 
once; the third house from this one. She left him and the old woman 
together, discussing with acerbity where Mr Jenkins had once lived 
if he had Hved at all. 

Number 3 stood back a yard from its neighbours. It was larger, 
with four windows to the front, and two of these were flimsily curtained. 
When she rapped on the door a crinkled voice upstairs called: "Daise! 
See what that is!" Presently the door was opened a few inches, and a 
new, timorous voice said, "Yes?" 

This was a woman or a child; in the shadow where the figure 
stood Armorel could not immediately tell. She asked, smiling, "I wonder 
if Mr Empire's at home? He lives here, doesn't he?" and the girl, after 
a pause, said, "I can see," shutting the door again. From somewhere 
at the back of the house her voice called: "Dad! You there?" 

The girl came back and let her in, to the linoed passage and then 
to the living-room. The hot room, gorged with furniture, was clean; the 
window, tightly fastened, resisted the smells of the street, and the room 
itself gave a decent smell. 

While Armorel sat on the one free chair the girl stood dumbly by 
the door, where her profile was lighted from the window. Yes, she was 
perhaps a young woman of twenty: twenty-five? The head, with hair 
done up in pre-war style, was abnormally big, her skin sallow, the coarse 
features almost elderly, except for her timid eyes, which were a 
child's eyes, wide and softly coloured. The most striking part was her 
mouth, which was very large but scarcely large enough for the great 
discoloured teeth which filled it; the upper lip, which appeared to be 
rolled back, almost joined her broad, flat nose, as if she wore a mous- 



94 



tache of wrinkled flesh, and this deformity she had tried to turn to her 
advantage with a coating of vermilion rouge. These peculiarities would 
have caught attention even had the head been mounted on a body of 
proportionate size. It was not. The childish frock she wore contained a 
grown woman's body, p^fectly matured, but on a miniature scale. She 
was less than four and a half feet tall. 

Tired, now that she was sitting down, a little faint from the 
room's closeness and the ordeal to come, Armorel made conversation. 
"I hope it's not a nuisance, my coming like this ... I had quite a 
job to find the place, it was silly of me, I came round quite the wrong 
way ... It has been hot all day, hasn't it! I think we're in for a 
thunderstorm presently." The girl occasionally turned her eyes to 
Armorel's face and back at once to the window. *'Aio," she said, her 
voice matched with the size of her body. "M-m ... oh dear! . . ." 
she said. It was better when she looked away: receiving those darted 
glances from the young, gentle eyes, you felt that someone unseen was 
peering at you from behind a grotesque mask. There were sounds from 
upstairs of agitated talk and movement: Armorel guessed that Empire 
was putting himself in social trim. 

He was, indeed, in ceremonial order when he arrived, with a double 
collar showing a gold stud, his big, cushiony hands washed up to the 
wrists, his fair hair damped down. He took the hand that Armorel 
offered, as if she had given him a baby chicken to hold, quickly let it 
go and dropped back to stand in line with his daughter, while Armorel 
sat down again. Inevitably she was hostess, they two were visitors. 

"I hope you won't mind my coming like this," she said. "It's 
about a friend of mine called Gian Ardree — I think he works with 
you?" 

. He nodded. He was a small man, except in feet and hands, anxious 
to please, like a country parson in cheap cartoons. 

"He's been in trouble lately," she said, "and I'm very anxious 
to do what I can to get him firmly on his feet again." 

"In trouble?" His brow was rather like a Dalmatian's, his eyes 
had a dog's puzzled fidelity. "Oh, yes, yes, he went to prison." He 
laughed slackly. "Bit of a do with the police — knocked one right out 
of business, they tell me. You heard about that, Daise?" 

"M-m," his daughter said. 

Armorel said quickly: "Yes, I believe that's about what happened. 



I 



95 



But he's not really a vicious young man — I know something about him 
from his mother — and in other ways." 

With the grin hustled away, Empire nodded earnestly: the lady, 
of course, must know. Armorel was relieved: she had pictured herself 
dealing with a very different kind of man. 

"On the other hand," she continued, "I think it's quite likely he 
may give some trouble if he isn't handled carefully — I mean, I think 
this is a time when his friends can do a lot for him. It's always a dan- 
gerous time for a man, the period after he's come out of prison." 

Daise, with one of her glances, said "M-m." Her father, desperate 
to answer as the lady wished, said nothing at all. He looked at Daise 
for inspiration, he looked at Armorel's feet. Was it some society she 
had come from, was she just a plain ordinary nosey parker, or did she 
want to sell him a flag? 

"Who's that?" he suddenly asked. 

The old woman had appeared at the window. 

"Oh," Armorel said, "that's someone who was helping me to find 
the way here . . . What I specially wanted to ask you was this: if 
you do find Ardree being troublesome in any way — " 

But now he was giving her only a polite fraction of his attention. 
The old woman's nose was pressed against the window, her dog stood 
up with its paws on the sill. "I can't get any sense from him, dear," 
the old woman shouted. 

"Put up the window, Daise," Empire said, and his daughter 
obeyed. 

"Telling me," said the old woman, "that he's never heard of Davie 
Jenkins!" 

Armorel smiled to her. "I've found the house I want — thank-you 
so much for helping me!" She turned to Empire again. "Do tell me 
frankly — has he been a nuisance to you at all?" 

"Ardree?" he said, looking at the floor. "I've known him for a 
long time — haven't I, Daise?" He spoke as if his tongue were too large, 
damp and furred. His smile came like the crack in a blancmange, with 
no reflection in his eyes. "Used to come here — didn't he, Daise?" 

"M-m." 

"If he didn't live here, where did he live?" the old woman de- 
manded. "You can't tell me I can't believe my own two eyes!" 

"I'm afraid he must have gone somewhere else now," Armorel told 

96 



her. ''. . . And of course," turning again to Empire, "you still see him 
at work every day?" 

''Mr Jenkins?" 

"No, no; Gian Ardree." 

She had lost his attention again. 'Terhaps your mum would like 
to come inside?" he said. The dog was in already, smelling his trousers. 
"I don't think I ever heard of a Mr Jenkins. Have you heard of a Mr 
Jenkins, Daise?" 

"I don't know all their names," his daughter said. 

Armorel said rapidly, "That isn't my mother, I don't know her at 
all. Listen, please, Mr Empire, this is rather important — " 

"It is important!" the old woman echoed. "Mrs Inch, my name 
is." 

" — I've heard something about a practical joke being played on 
you. I want to know if you think that Ardree had anything to do with 
that. Because if you do, I want to take the whole business into my own 
hands, for your sake and for his. It was a very stupid affair, and it must 
have been a great annoyance to you — " 

His mind seemed to be working in some fashion now, though its 
gear was painfully low. "I remember him coming here as a young lad, 
Sunday afternoons. I had five or six of them in a Bible class. These lads, 
you know, miss, they get nothing of that kind, if someone don't learn 
them. You can't live without Holy Scripture, can you miss?" 

"Well, I — I don't know. But I'm sure you must have had a good 
influence on him." 

Surprisingly, and rather dreadfully, his daughter laughed. Her 
great mouth, when she laughed, became a crater from which the thin 
notes of her mirth trickled grotesquely. 

"That'll do!" Empire snapped, and the laugh fell dead. 

Mrs Inch sniffed. "I never did hear of Mr Jenkins going to no 
Bible class." 

"Yes, I did a lot for them lads," Empire went on. "It's like as you 
might say I got a way with young chaps. You can always send 'em along 
to me, if you're having trouble with any young chap." 

The voice from the window broke in again: "But he's not a young 
chap." 

"Of course," he persisted, "there's some lads you can't do nothing 
with. There's what you might call a spirit of evil inside them. I'm not 
saying aught against the young chap you was speaking of . . ." 

97 



He was set to a fair wind now. His eyes might wander, coming to 
Armorel's face in sliding glances like his daughter's; his soft, friendly- 
mouth might bunch and droop alternately reminding her of a marion- 
ette's; but the liquid voice ran smoothly, earnest and humble, charged 
ever more warmly with the eloquence of the simple-hearted, tireless, 
because it had no nervous force to be exhausted. Fallen into stupor, his 
daughter watched him as children stare at the traffic through misted 
windows; Mrs Inch herself had come at last to silence. 

Would it always be like this? Armorel wondered. As the curded 
voice went rambling on she grew desperate to get away: to escape from 
the smell of Bidault's Place and the stuffed flowers on the broken piano, 
from the need to sit as a lady should and to wear an understanding 
smile. The girl Daise was frankly watching her now, as primitive 
people watch the first explorer who comes their way, while Mrs Inch, 
leaning on the window-sill, was quietly crying. Together with Empire 
himself, still standing politely in his place and intermittently smiling, 
helping his endless digressions with the lame gestures of his soft, un- 
gainly hands, they made a picture like the careful tableaux of a village 
pageant, living creatures eerily reduced to waxwork; and she felt, with 
increasing malaise, that she was part of this peculiar tableau herself. 

"I can't waste my time standing here all night!" Mrs Inch said 
suddenly. "Who's to get Alfred Inch's supper for him, that's what I 
want to know." 

"Of course, yes, you must get back!" Armorel said quickly. "I 
must be going too. It's so kind of you . . ." 

She put out her hand and this time Empire held it firmly, smiling. 
He leaned towards her, so that she caught the smell of his breath. 
"You understand," he said, "I only want to help folk all I can, no 
matter who it is. The police or anyone else — after all, the police have 
got their job to do, the same as other folk." 

She could not get her hand away. "But you know," she said 
urgently, "I'm nothing to do with the police. I'm only interested in Gian 
Ardree." 

He smiled gravely, continuing to hold her hand. Mrs Inch still 
watched them curiously from the window, Daise from the stairs. 
"He'll be all right, young Ardree," he said, "I'll keep an eye on him, 
I always do what I can for the young lads — short of anything as come 
against the law, you understand. He knows that right enough, Ardree 

98 



does — so long as he's not up against the law he's not got a better 
friend than me." 

She did not try to answer, her mind was fixed on getting away 
before laughter overwhelmed her. Not that she saw anything amusing in 
Empire's earnestness: the room's sepulchral respectability, the damp 
hand cherishing hers, the great head of the creature timidly looking 
down from the stairs, these were a waking, liverish dream that started 
in her head and throat the laughter which visits mourners at a funeral. 
Without another word she pulled her hand away and went out into the 
street. 

Her obvious course was to turn right and go out into what she after- 
wards knew as Sea Coal Street; and by this route she would gratefully 
have avoided the passage under Coronation Building. She started to go 
that way; but a group of men idling in the roadway, men with hungry 
faces and nothing in the world to look at, made her lose her nerve. She 
turned abruptly and went the way she had come, walking with dignity 
but more rapidly than she was used. She had not reached the passage 
when she heard the old woman shouting after her. She took no notice 
at all. 

At that point something happened which frightened her. Someone 
close by said, "Excuse me! " and she saw a man standing in the darkness 
of a doorway. She stopped dead and said in a wholly unnatural voice 
"What do you want?" 

The man's accent, when he spoke again, slightly reasssured her and 
though he did not come right out into the roadway, she could see, now, 
that he was at least respectably dressed: the kind of young man — her 
impression was — who sells motor cars in Long Acre. "I'm so sorry," he 
said, "but I saw you come out of Number 3 ; can you tell me if Empire's 
at home?" 

She answered that he was, and started to move on, but he spoke 
again: "Do you mind telling me if there's anyone with him? Any 
visitor, I mean?" He was very polite, like a well-drilled schoolboy. 

She answered: "Not as far as I know." 

"You — didn't see anyone hanging about?" 

"No." 

"Who was hanging about?" Mrs Inch demanded, steaming up 
like Pheidippides. "There's no sense talking that way to me. If people 
don't tell you nothing you've got to hang about." 



99 



The chance was too obvious to be ignored. 

"Listen," Armorel said, "if you talk nicely to this gentleman he'll 
tell you all about Mr Jenkins." She left them and hurried on into 
Mickett Lane. 

A few drops of rain had fallen, but the storm held off. Absurd, to 
have been so scared by a polite young man — probably, she realized now, 
a plain-clothes man on the look-out for any further mischief at Em- 
pire's house. But the pulse of her heart still felt like an engine left to 
race, her feet still hurried. This street was narrow, and its houses, loop- 
holed walls thrust hard against the narrow pavements, had the groping 
look of a blind beggar's face. She would not recover all her calm till 
she reached the main road. 

The sweeper and his barrow was still there, a few women gossiped 
on the pavement, some boys were kicking a tin along the gutter. Her 
eye was caught by a man some distance down the street because of the 
way he walked, with the springy slouch of a young Londoner^ but with 
something furtive in the movements of his head. Coming in her direction 
he kept close to the houses, stopping every few yards to look about him, 
and when some thirty yards away he turned sharply into the one narrow 
passage which broke the block. By then she had seen that it was Gian 
himself. 

Instinctively she looked back along the street. Mrs Inch and the 
plain-clothes man were advancing together in the middle of the road- 
way, the dog dragging ahead. She went quickly to where Gian had 
stopped with his back against the wall. 

"You — what do you want?" he demanded. 

Just beside them the back door of a house was ajar, she pushed 
it boldly and saw that the house was an empty one. 

"You'd better come in here," she said prosaically, "the police are 
just up the street." 

He hesitated for a moment and then followed her inside. Followed 
her upstairs, having bolted the door behind him, and stood with his 
white face a few inches from hers, his hands and his teeth clenched. 

"See here!" he said, scarcely parting his lips, "are you going to 
keep out of my tracks or not?" 

"Not," she answered. 

Relaxing, after a few moments, he sat down on a painter's trestle, 
biting his lip and staring at his ragged shoes. 



100 



12 



Ohe was to think of that house, No. 83, with something akin to 
sentiment; to grope in the falHng and distorting light of memory for 
elusive details of that hour. For their friendship started there. 

"I can see that room now, the trestle Gian was sitting on, the look 
on his face — as if he thought I was a kind of wicked fairy and Scarlet 
Pimpernel rolled into one." She said that — to Christine — many weeks 
later. It was not, in truth, the memory of that hour at all. Gian's face, 
as he sat on the trestle, was first livid with anger and then merely 
sullen; the face she afterwards ^remembered' was built out of several 
occasions — his bewilderment when she told him (casually, in the 
Strand) that she had scarcely any money of her own, the incredulity 
in his eyes when she gave him a leather cigarette-case for his birthday, 
his dumb astonishment at her remark, among the Florentines in the 
National Gallery, that "hardly any educated people think those 
miracles really happened." No, in reality she could not recapture that 
first proper meeting at all. The broken window and the peeling wall- 
paper, painters' tins and brushes, shavings and cigarette-ends all over 
the floor: these remained in outline. The curious light which a window 
opposite threw back from a sun fallen below the storm's rim, that 
was too subtle to be etched on memory, and the smell, sawn wood and 
plumber's paste borne in the evening odours of the hot street, could 
only by chance come to her again. She could have repeated months 
later some of the things she said — "Well, honestly, it is my business. 
We both belong to Hollysian House. ... I know it must be maddening, 
but then you couldn't expect Empire to refuse promotion, and in any 
case it's no good going for people when they've got the police looking 
after them" — but never again in exactly the same voice, its quiet good- 
temper warmed and lit by the evening's excitement, its studied cheerful- 
ness softened by caution and by a hint of tears. Such an hour does not 
stand by itself, it emerges from those before it already nurtured, as live 
beings are by their parentage. The day it was born from had been fretted 
with small terrors, heavy with frustration. At the sight of Gian it 
changed, ceasing to be purposeless. Fear remained: of the outcome of 
so outlandish a situation, of Gian himself; for at the moment when they 
arrived upstairs and he faced her, standing in the doorway, his eyes 
looked murderous. But this new fear was blended with triumph (she 



lOI 



thought already how in a casual sentence she would recount the affair to 
Trevon) and the wasted day had seemed to be restored. 

So little speech passed between them. "My business, isn't it! ... 
No harm in a bit of sport . . . Deputy foreman don't make no difference 
— make him boss, for all I mind. Won't make him nothink different, a 
jag's a jag, no matter what he is. . . . It's not the same as butting in, 
honestly it isn't. . . . Yep, I seen you meant all right. Gettin' books and 
that. I reckon on what Mr Grist said, what he said you don't come from 
the Court nor yet you're not in with Sally's Army nor any other noseys. 
Yep, I reckon that by what Mr Grist said." But excitement had quick- 
ened him, as the scuttle of a mouse changes a drowsy cat into a shaft of 
sensitivity. Even in the first few minutes, when he sat on the trestle 
with his mouth glum as a schoolboy's in detention, his brow was intent. 
They heard foosteps halting below the window, the short bark of a 
dog followed by voices, "This way, you're certain?" "Not up to nothing 
— that's what you think! The word I use is 'bitch', and I don't mind* 
who hears me — B-I-S-K-H. ..." and when those sounds had died 
away he grinned, sniffling at the same time. The grin came and went 
as he walked up and down the small room, putting a cigarette in his 
mouth and back in his hip-pocket : a private grin, not to be shared with 
her; but sometimes his wandering glance came nearly to her face, and 
once it rested on her dress, dispassionately, the gaze of a town child 
upon open moors. He was showing off now, shifting his scarf, playing 
with the cigarette, shrugging his shoulders: she was surprised to see so 
much mobility in a face which had looked so lifeless before, to catch the 
signs of cogitation. He admitted, presently, that she existed as a separ- 
ate being, "You'll get your dress mucky, sitting there," and when she 
replied that it didn't matter he brought a piece of sacking from the 
next room and put it for her to sit on. "You got no call to stay about," 
he said more than once, "the cops a'n't after you!" but she answered 
evenly that she was not in a hurry. She asked for a cigarette and he 
gave it to her, much surprised. That seemed to lessen his irritation, his 
face showed interest now, as the molten faces of very dour people will 
sometimes light up at the antics of a kitten. "Spoil your inside," he 
remarked, and then, as one knowing his world, "Cop goes off at eight. 
Change the shift then." 

"Pay you, at that club?" he asked. 

"No, I don't get any money for it. Of course it's not a whole-time 
job." 



I02 



"What d'you do it for?" 

"Well, I like it. I like books — and people." 

"What, those blokes round the Club?" 

"Some of them are very nice. There's Eddie Peters, I think he's 
absolutely delightful." 

"Eddie? Gor! Bloke that can't hardly talk." 

"Well, that's what makes it interesting, that sort of thing. He 
may not be able to talk much. But he knows things. He reads an awful 
lot. Then there's Terence Hubbitt." 

"The cop's son?" 

"Yes. I like him very much too." 

He nodded, "Yes, he's all right," and went off into a day-dream. 
He would have talked freely, she was certain, if he were practised in 
conversation; she could see him getting sentences ready and then 
throwing them away because they were too clumsy to carry his thoughts. 
i\ll her apprehension had gone, and since he looked so seldom directly 
at her face she could study his as she had studied only one face before, 
wondering that features cut in so hard a substance could yet suggest 
mercurial alternations of inward cloud and light. In the Court, watched 
from her awkward place, these hunting eyes had seemed animal and 
childish; they were strange eyes still, but their light no longer came 
from a flickering source, and the mouth which had shown like leather 
became a pliant instrument, responsive to a range of impulses. Her 
instincts had been just, then: this man whom the upright Mr Cuddish 
had so casually put in prison, whom the knowing Mr Grist had been 
content to classify as difficult and dangerous, was a creature no smaller 
in sensibility than themselves, perhaps no poorer in natural intelligence. 
In knowledge he might be behind his fellows, slower in understanding, 
less balanced in temper, less able to distinguish between good lines of 
conduct and bad. What else would you expect from his shoddy parent- 
age, a childhood walled by the Contessa houses, the crammed, uproari- 
ous, chancy schooling of Sand Street? And if he was far behind, was 
not the task of coaxing him forward so much the more rewarding? To 
make him what he was meant to be, to show the scribes how hopelessly 
they had misjudged him, might be a labour not of months but of years. 
So long as it was hers, she did not mind. 

Here was the genius of this curious hour, her sense of final dedi- 
cation and of boundless strength. In the moment of his frenzy one word 
of hers had calmed him; and surely if she could penetrate his mind 



103 



with eyes of understanding, if she set herself no limits in labour or 
patience, she was destined for an achievement which few would have 
dared to attempt. She watched him moving about the room like a beast 
newly caged. From where she sat on the floor he seemed gigantic, in 
height as well as breadth: a creature devoid of graces, his thick hair 
unkempt, a dirty scrub on his angular cheeks and jaw, his jacket torn 
and his greasy trousers shapeless: not a boy but a man, coarsely 
mature, with dried and dirty sweat on his forehead, dirt in every crack 
of his workman's hands. Somehow the picture which had grown in her 
mind was of a boy with some physical weakness, a shrinking and sensi- 
tive being, crushed by the weight of misunderstanding. In this reality 
there was nothing that cowered. His sniff was contemptuous, the move- 
ments of his chin and wrists were a fighter's. Here was someone to be 
broken, rather than mended, before the best in him could grow; not 
by the old and fruitless cruelties, but with the supple penetration of 
intelligence. Simply by coolness, by taking his manner of life for 
granted, she had made the first step. Even as minutes passed his per- 
plexed hostihty was waning; without her asking he clumsily dealt her 
another cigarette, and actually a rasher of his thoughts. 

"In with the cops — Empire. Got 'em all round, whenever he 
wants." 

"Well, that's a sound enough reason for keeping clear of him, 
isn't it?" 

"Maybe." 

He examined his knuckles, hideously broken, and smiled again. 
The look of fury returned, he spat on his sleeve, shook out his massive 
shoulders and loped back to the window, where he stood and looked 
defiantly into the street. 

"Better not stand there," she said, "they might see you." 

"What of it?" 

"You know well enough — you don't want to be seen within a mile 
of Empire's place." 

"They can't do nothing." 

"Except get you back into prison — that's what they're trying to, 
isn't it?" 

"Prison's all right," he said. 

"Not for people like you. It's all right for brainless people — 
they might as well be in prison as anywhere else. You've got brains 
— ^you know that. Anyway, I don't want to see you going to prison 



104 



again — no, don't tell me it's not my business, I'm sick of hearing you 
say that." She was smiling, but her voice had taken a mans intonation, 
the phrases falling like the dull, even blows of a lumberer. "Listen, it 
would be a silly sort of life, a man spending half his time in gaol just 
because he's too bone lazy to use the brains that nature's given him. If 
you haven't the gumption to see that — if your own people are too feeble 
to make you see it — then it's going to be my business, whether you 
like it or not." 

With some solemnity he considered this manifesto, coming slowly 
towards her, his lips tight and twisting in a way she hadn't seen before. 

"If it weren't for you being along with Mr Grist," he said, giving 
his thoughtful decision, "I might crack your face for you." 

She stood up, taking her time. 

"I suppose it's all right if I hit you back?" 

Feet astride, hands withdrawn from his pockets, his mouth still 
oddly wriggling, he scanned her face and neck with precise eyes, as a 
chess player examines the board before his move. She realized in those 
moments how quiet it was in this small room, with the children's voices 
from the roadway stilled. The footsteps that she heard were a long way 
up the street, the noise of a goods train shunting came from another 
world. Strangely, she was cold, though the day's heat seemed to have 
stayed in the stagnant air against her face, resisting the fresher smells 
of evening. After a time he seemed to grow tired of his preoccupation, 
and turned about nonchalantly to stand beside her, leaning against the 
wall, whistling with his teeth, occasionally smiling. Something in his 
tired face forbade her to speak again: with the light weakening he grew 
almost as distant as he had been in court, and having captured ground 
that day she would not trespass any further. The darkness of the threat- 
ened storm was slowly intensified by nightfall. He did not move about 
any more, and until the darkness made them almost invisible to each 
other they stood side by side, like strangers early in a theatre queue, 
dumbly sharing (she believed) a kind of contentment. 

As they walked together to the end of Contessa Street (with a 
yard between them, like a preparatory schoolboy and a mother wrongly 
dressed) he made one remark: "You certain it was a tec you saw? . . . 
Maybe lucky you come." The air had freshened a little from the dark 
street she saw one spray of stars. 

In the tram, when she had left him, she was unconsciously smiling: 
there was a lingering pleasure in the feel of the people jammed beside 

105 



her, in their overworn clothes and stale odours, because she had trav- 
elled a little in their country: the pattern of light which the Old Rich- 
mond threw across the pavement, the torn fly sheets and the little 
crowd round the barrows at Haig's Corner, these, slung past the win- 
dows, had caught the virtue of a new possession, like the names of 
places you have passed through in the early marches of a long campaign. 



13 

ART OF the magic remained, making her immune to the set-backs 
and the disappointments. It changed the feel of life, it altered her be- 
haviour, her looks. On the day after her visit to Bidault's Place Gian 
strolled into the library and took out a book as one takes a ticket for 
Charing Cross; but paused at the door, looked her in the face, grinned, 
took off the grin, said curtly — addressing the highest shelf of books — 
"Nice game of hide and seek!" and left the Club. The fact that a week 
passed before he came again scarcely diminished the silent exaltation in 
which she lived. The advance had begun. 

The sense of triumph gave her new confidence, she ceased to be 
merely a conscientious underling, Hollysian House became partly her 
own. The boys were immediately aware of the change. She was far less 
shy, she started to call some by their Christian names as Trevon did 
and even tried to joke with them, though joking was never her forte: 
but books had to be returned by the proper date now, either that or no 
more borrowing, and she listened to no argument. ''And, Gus, will you 
please not shut the door with your foot, it's got a handle." On the 
whole they liked it. And on the whole, though he grumbled. Flock liked 
it. "Sergeant Flock!" she would shout right down the gymnasium, "I 
asked you quite distinctly to get all the books off the top shelf and dust 
it thoroughly . . . No, I'm not asking you again, I'm telling you it's 
got to be done. Get me?" she added fiercely. The shelf was dusted. She 
emerged of an evening and marched confidently between the groups, 
calling "Where's that scalawag Fisher? Oh, there you are — you owe me 
one and fivepence cigarette money, come on, I'm not going to climb up 
after you!" 'Susie Bitch-rod', they called her among themselves, loud 

106 



enough for her to overhear; 'Miss Susie' to her face, sometimes just 
'Susie'. She liked that. She put up notices signed 'Susie' and sometimes 
'S.B-R'. 

The change would have been obvious enough to Trevon, but she 
gave him particular chances to observe it. She started by returning a 
draft he had scrawled for typing. "I'm not going to waste my time un- 
ravelling that, you'll have to make a fair copy and then I'll do it." She 
argued with him, quietly, inexorably. She had decided to retard the 
library hours by half an hour, and nothing he said would alter her 
decision. No, she would not have books of faintly disguised theology, 
even if they were a gift from one of the Club's most generous patrons; 
Trevon could keep them in his own room if he wished and give them 
out himself, that was his affair, but they were just not going to clutter 
up hers. 

"Did you know that Ardree was in last night?" he asked on the 
Thursday afternoon. 

"Last night? Oh, yes, yes, I saw him." 

"He came into my room fairly late, I had quite a long talk with 
him." 

"Oh, yes?" 

"He said something about his having seen you a few nights ago. 
In Mickett Lane, I think he said." 

"Mickett Lane? Oh, yes, I know it, I walk that way sometimes. 
Yes, of course, that was where I spoke to him." 

"He seemed a bit puzzled about you." 

"Puzzled? I shouldn't have thought there was anything puzzling 
about me. Look here — I wanted to tell you — I've decided to spend fif- 
teen pounds on new books. We really do need them." 

"And Where's the fifteen pounds coming from?" 

"Well, that's what I want you to tell me . . ." 

And now that her last fear of this blustering creature had gone 
she could find some kindness for him. More and more he was making 
excuses to come into her room and talk, sometimes in a nervous fash- 
ion about Gian (to be adroitly side-stepped), sometimes about herself. 
"You don't feel you're wasting your brains in this God-forsaken outfit? 
... It must be nice to get down to Streatham, after stewing in this place 
all evening. I suppose you've got a pretty room, all chintzes and hand- 
painted lamp shades and things? I suppose, really, it's very pleasant to 
live respectably — I can hardly remember, but I think it must be. Look 

107 



here, if you feel you need flowers and that sort of thing you must tell 
Flock to get them and I'll settle with him. And if he tries to be funny, 
tell him I'll kick his backside for him." She was too sensible, too mature 
(with Gordon behind her), to be highly flattered by such attention; yet 
too quick in observation and instinct to overlook the little signs which 
had broken out, his more careful shaving, the occasional brushing of 
his hair. In most ways, he was the same as when she had first known 
him. He stayed for hours in a tightening fog of smoke and flatulence, 
he sulked, he dogmatized and ranted. He delivered vast lectures on the 
rottenness of civilization, bemoaned the crass indiscipline of his boys in 
one breath and sentimentaHzed about them in the next ; lit one cigarette 
from another, belched, hiccoughed, roared his self-pity across the gym- 
nasium. " Flock r he would yell, ''Flock, you lousy meddhng, muddle- 
headed mercenary, what the hell do you mean by emptying my waste- 
paper basket, damn your bleeding eyes — don't you know there's always 
something in it I'm going to want later on, curse your drip-nosed inter- 
ference!" "Mr Grist, sir, if you was to inquire," came back a distant 
voice embalmed in cosy innocence, "you might hear as how it were an 
angel come and took your basket, sir. Small-sized angel about six-stone- 
ten, sir. I seen her come and cart it off with love's dainty fingers, get 
me, Mr Grist, sir!" Another bellow: ''Miss Cepinnier! I will not have 
you reorganizing this hell-begotten club without my express permission, 
do you understand!" yet in a minute or two he was beside her, staring 
censoriously at her skirt. "Look here, Susie, I've got to have a new 
coat, this thing's falling off me. I wish you'd get me one, I never go 
near any shops. . . . That must have been very expensive, that dress. 
You know, I like seeing you sitting there now I've got used to it. It's a 
change after seeing nothing but old Flock — I do so hate the sight of 
Flock's muscles — utilitarianism gone crazy. Yes, I feel there's some- 
thing to be said for having a librarian — a small, blue one. It seems to 
go with the books. Well, I suppose it's like everything else in aesthetics, 
you like what you get used to . . ." And there he was right, she thought, 
and aesthetics was not the only field to which it applied: inevitably, 
you grew fond of chairs that had been in your nursery, of old baskets 
which had lost their handles and aged, rusty bicycles; you had some 
liking for a desk you sat at every day, for the smell of a place where 
you had enjoyed some happiness, the noise of familiar traffic; for the 
cough and the heavy breathing, the foolish ebullience, the sprawling, 

io8 



nervy, graceless presence of a man whose job happened to lie close 
to your own. 

This too, this quickened and full-flowing response to the tones that 
radiate from shadow, she may have owed to the fresh urgency of her 
mission; as, when a windjammer puts out to sea, her every timber seems 
to come alive. 

Her need was for patience but also for speed. In a week or so she 
might lose as much of Gian's confidence as she had gained, and if she 
failed to find some interest for him now, when his fractured spirit was 
still bent towards mischief, there might not be another chance. 

They taught her, these creatures of many shapes and sizes jostling 
and ragging round her chair, that almost any boy would respond to 
flattery, even such minor flattery as your knowing his name and some- 
thing about him: and she learnt that some of the most uncouth among 
them, the most laconic or surly, were pleased with the chance to do 
her a personal favour. On that principle her earliest traps for Gian were 
set. Getting word that he was hanging about in the yard she went down- 
stairs with a pair of suitcases which she had kept handy, weighted with 
old books; with these she laboured towards Bait Lane, calling "Good- 
evening, Gian!" as she passed him. It worked. She found him slouching 
beside her, mumbling "You can't do that, that's not a kid's job," and 
he carried the cases the whole way to the cloakroom at Waterloo. It 
'chanced' next time he wandered into the library that a heavy box of 
books had to be got down from the top of the cupboard. "Wait," she 
said, "here's Gian Ardree, let him do it, he's as strong as a lion," and 
she stood gasping with admiration as he performed the simple task. An- 
other evening there was a new page of the register to be ruled. "Gian, 
be a dear, you're good with your fingers." This was trying him high, and 
the first lines he made were far from parallel, but he rubbed them all 
out, laboriously marked the intervals in the way she showed him and 
did it again. Perhaps he had not cared for such kindergarten work: he 
was absent for three nights afterwards: but when he came again she 
praised him lavishly, and at once set him to putting returned books 
back on the proper shelves. (The job was foolproof, now that shelves 
and books were carefully numbered, but she made him understand that 
no one else in the Club could be trusted with work of such complexity.) 
She saw him slamming at the punch-ball, in the somnolent fashion of 
one peeling a twig and went to try her own hand, collecting a circle 



109 



which shouted "Gor — look at Susie! . . . Bleeding cruelty to the ruddy 
ball! . . . Here, miss, let me show y' " — ^but only Gian was allowed to 
demonstrate, and she joined in the 'Gor!' at the vicious power of his 
blows. By expert contrivance, by cautious stage-management, she began 
to give him a new status in the Club. 

She persuaded him to come on a Sunday excursion to Regent's 
Park, with Terence Hubbitt as companion (since he had manifested 
a kind of bovine attachment to this undersized, bespectacled, spotty 
and uninteresting child) and this was a partial success and the inclusion 
of Terence put him in an entirely different mood. He looked at the 
trees with something like appreciation, he smelt the air and said, "All 
right, out this way!" as if the park were his own handiwork. Of 
Armorel he took scarcely any notice, except to buy her, in an offhand 
wa}^, a cup of tea; but to Terence he was almost garrulous. ''Could do 
worse, of a Sunday . . . Better get something to take back to your 
mum — go on, course you can pick 'em, I won't let no one hurt you!" 
She was much heartened; and two evenings later, leaving the library 
in charge of Nibbley Toms, she persuaded him to come to St James's 
Park with her, alone, and listen to the Green Howards' band. For this 
adventure he wore a new jacket, with a clean collar and sober tie. 

She prepared conversational openings as diligently as an actor 
studies his part, hunting not only for subjects which might interest him 
but for language which she could use naturally and which he would 
understand. To begin with it mattered little, she thought, what they 
talked about, if she could only get him talking at all. Here again the 
earliest attempts left her almost without hope. Her mention of Empire 
and his daughter made him evasive and sullen. She spoke of his mother 
— how strange London must seem to one brought up in the sun- 
drenched loveliness of Italy — and all he said was ''Mum? She's all 
right." Contessa Street was 'all right', his job was 'all right' — no, there 
was nothing in it, anyone could do it. Had he ever thought of trying for 
another sort of job? No, he hadn't, he expected all jobs were much the 
same. No, he didn't expect to get promoted — well, he just didn't think 
it was likely, that was all. No, he didn't play football; that sort of thing 
was all right for kids. He had once been to see the Arsenal, his dad had 
taken him. That must have been fun? Well, no. Had he ever done any 
carpentry, tried to make things? He hadn't. Allowing for the high, thick 
walls with which his life had been surrounded, she began to doubt if 
they were his only limitations. 



no 



But at least he was getting used to her, accepting her eccentricities 
as he accepted the rest of experience ; and on an evening when she said, 
"I simply must stretch my legs, do come for a walk before the library 
opens!" he came as unconcernedly as a carriage dog. His face, indeed, 
was that of a martyr who has frequently been taken to the stake on 
the wrong day; his gait aggressively detached; but he had the slightly 
possessive air of one leading rather than being led, and when a friend 
in Flanders Street called "Where y' taking Susie, Toughie? Maiden's 
End?" he did not look abashed at all. It was in that short walk that 
he first spoke to her spontaneously. As they were passing the Sand 
Street Schools he stopped to stare, holding on to the railings which go 
all round the playground. She waited patiently, and all at once he 
said, pointing to the Girls' Entrance, ''All wrong! Bleeding death-trap, 
them steps." 

"Oh?" 

"Seen a kid cut her head open. Tripped, see? They come out all 
together, the ones in front get pushed by the ones behind. This kid 
come down head first, give her head a crack on the stone there. Cut it 
right open. Blood? — you never seen nothin' like it. Covered with it, 
I was, just pickin' her up." 

"Yes," she said, "it does look dangerous. But I don't see quite 
what they're to do about it. I suppose they could make a rule that the 
children have got to come out in an orderly way." 

"Rule?" he said. "Rules is no good." 

"Well, what would you do?" 

"Take away them steps," he answered, without hesitation. "Sort 
of platform thing, you want there, with a wall this side, about this 
high, see? Path goin' down close up against the building — not steps, a 
slopin' path, see? With a rail both sides, a wood rail, not iron, see?" 

The incident was sufficient guide to one alert for guidance. She 
persuaded him a day or two later to visit the Civic Design exhibition 
at the Institute of Civil Engineers. Cap in both hands, unlit cigarette 
at the usual angle, he dutifully examined one model after another with 
the eyes of a tone-deaf man in the Wigmore Hall. 

"They're beautifully made, aren't they?" she suggested. 

"Yes, they're all right." 

A failure, she thought. By tomorrow she would think of a new line 
to pursue. She looked about to see if there was anything important that 
they had missed and when she turned again he had disappeared. 



Ill 



There was a screen near the entrance with a group of photographs 
to illustrate the Lowes-Beddling scheme at Liverpool. One showed Gold 
Purse Street as it had been, with a child swinging on a piece of rop>e 
fixed to a lamp-post: there were views of the same street half-demol- 
ished, and pastel drawings to show the court which would take its 
place. She found him studying this screen, not with any look of intelli- 
gence but with a kind of rustic gravity. He put his eyes close to the 
child swinging on the lamp-post, as if she were someone he knew. The 
drawings he passed over cursorily, but the photograph of a Wicken 
demolisher at work held him fascinated. She said, after a time: 

"It must be fun to use a thing like that — to press a lever and see 
a wall toppling." 

"That don't do nothing, that lever," he said without turning. 
"That's the brake, that is. You got an extra clutch pedal down at the 
bottom what puts in the working gear." 

"You're interested in machinery?" she asked. 

"Not specially." 

The photograph of two bricklayers at work, with a small girl 
looking up at them, stopped him again. He scrutinized it with con- 
temptuous concentration. 

"What are they doing that for?" he asked at length. 

"Well, I suppose they may be building a house for the little girl 
to live in." 

"What— that kid? A house like that?" 

"I don't see why not." 

"Do better get her something to eat!" he said laconically. 

"Well, for all we know they may be doing that as well. One of 
them may be the girl's father, earning money to get her food." 

"What, that?" he said. "That's not her dad. That's a silky." 

"Why, how do you know?" 

"You never seen a bloke lay bricks like that, not a bloke that 
knows how." 

"What, isn't he doing it the right way?" 

"Right way? What — laying on bricks without nothing to hold 'em 
fixed!" 

She said quickly: "Oh, you've done some bricklaying, have you?" 

"Only in the locker," he said, with a note of defiance. 

"It would be rather a nice job, wouldn't it, to build houses?" 

"Depend what sort of houses," he answered; and although she 



112 



led him back to the subject with all the skill she had, as they drank 
coffee together in the Bridge Street A. B.C., she could penerate no 
further. 

Yet her patience had narrowed the field of possibility. Plainly his 
dormant interest was in things, in the making of things, probably in 
the making of houses. She had been foolish to put him at so high a 
fence as architectural design: that was a level he might reach in time, 
but at present it was as far above him as the rush-tops above a tadpole. 
Meanwhile, he had powerful hands and observant eyes; if he could be 
taught the lesser crafts in building he might progress to the higher ; the 
things he saw and felt, above all the things he did, would nourish his 
mind for the more adventurous journey she intended. Within a few 
hours she had letters on their way to everyone she knew, or knew at 
second hand, who was concerned with the building trade. Within two 
days she had seen the principals of three technical schools and received 
particulars of two more. 

Some hold that a jockey in the first flight will exercise more than 
the skills of judgement and of touch; that by some esoteric means his 
will-power flows into the horse he rides. If by such means one human 
being can command another, Armorel must have used them. But it can 
scarcely be argued that Gian had, at that time, no wifl of his own. 
Impossible, of course, that he would have travelled on the course she 
set — or even dreamed of it — without a powerful impulse outside himself. 
Yet surely he possessed some kind of ambition, or at least some kind of 
hunger, which she in fact wakened and directed. So much the facts 
seemed to imply. For in less than a week after their visit to the ex- 
hibition they were walking side by side up the steps of the Grover 
Technical Institute in Stamford Street; and a fortnight later, alone, 
slouching, with fugitive and hostile eyes, he was mounting those steps 
again for the fifth time. 

What young man, after all, could have held out against such insidi- 
ous flattery, so gentle-voiced as well as so tremendous a persuasion. 
She had learnt some gestures of his own, the off-hand manner which a 
man of the streets wears to separate him from the sucker class: with 
them she had found a smile like his, a shrewd and corner-mouthed 
grimace which dawned from an obstinate frown and sank into the frown 
again before anything was given away. She kept that smile for him. 
She made him seem to take his own decisions, brought him problems 



113 



which he could solve from his own field of knowledge — "Gian, look, 
that man at the corner has charged me 3/6 for doing these shoes. Have 
I been a mug again?" — and treated his grumbles as if they belonged 
to her as well. She was casual: that was the secret. Her invitations and 
appointments were made as if she didn't care a damn: 'Might as well.' 
'You coming?' 'Feel like the baths?' these were phrases that belonged 
to comradeship and she learnt almost to dispense with any others. What 
wonder that at last he was giving her some particles of his confidence 
in return. He told her in a casual fashion that he had been stood off 
for three days for some jugglery over clocking-in which the deputy 
foreman had spotted; that his father was 'gone all out on himself, being 
out of a job; that a sister who'd married a Birmingham chap was in 
the family way again and 'trying like mad to get it ditchered.' These 
came spontaneously, a recognition of her interest. Of the evening classes 
he said that most of the teaching meant nothing at all to him: it was 
really for silkies, for blokes with a lot of schooling, 'same as you'd be 
yourself.' But because she made his attendance a favour to her, exactly 
as if he were earning money from which she somehow benefited, he 
went on attending. 

By seven o'clock the mob which comes each morning to earn some 
remote kind of living has mostly been taken away, leaving the city to 
its own people. The congestion loosens and the tired streets can breathe 
a little. This was the city they chiefly shared, on evenings when the 
classes were not sitting. There was a tea-shop called the Liverpool in 
Southwark Street (it is a shop for electrical appliances now) which 
stayed open till eight; once or twice, between his working and her 
library hours, they had glasses of lemonade there, with rather noisome 
pies, watched curiously by the marble-eyed old woman who kept the 
place. They got on a bus one evening which went at a joyful speed 
down Kingsland Road while she tried to explain a passage in a text- 
book which had bothered him, and afterwards they stood in the middle 
of St George's Circus to settle conscientiously about the fare. Often you 
might have followed them, in a small excursion like these, without 
realizing that they were meant to be in company: he was usually 
ambling ahead or lagging behind like a puppy on a generous lead, some- 
times he would stop dead to look at children playing on the kerb or 
an old man pushing a barrow and she would go some distance before 
she realized he had strayed and stopped to wait for him. But he in 
his turn waited patiently if she turned to look at a shop window, and 



114 



sometimes he smiled then, and even made a remark: "Won't do you, 
Miss Susie, you don't get class shops in this part." On an evening when 
the sun sank from a clear sky into the haze over Notting Hill they 
both stood still to look southwards from Lambeth Bridge. They were 
the length of a tram apart, and he could not be seeing what she saw, 
the promiscuity of sooted stone and brick turned by a diffusion of 
light into one incomparable masterpiece. But he had stopped of his own 
accord, and when he caught up again, face resolutely bored, his teeth 
were whistling. 

For her in this summer of contentment, each day rewarded by the 
inches climbed, the town wore that aspect of a new possession. It was a 
harmony too fragile to be kept, but such that once and again in later 
years her ears might prick to it. In the grey light of a London evening 
she might see a boy pushing his small brother in an orange-box along 
the cooled pavement by the shuttered shops in Pegg Street. Perhaps 
with twenty minutes to kill she would drop in at the Liverpool and 
leaning on the stained American cloth would imagine she saw Gian 
coming over with the glasses, callow, embarrassed, his eyes lit faintly 
by a fugitive pride. But it was flecks of experience slenderer than these, 
more transient, which would hold the genius to take her back. A glance 
up at the clock as she stood on the Embankment waiting for a tram; 
the fresh, sunset air which sometimes catches your face as you turn 
from Stamford Street to go over the bridge; a moment when the traffic 
in Waterloo Road seems to have petered out, and you catch, with the 
smell of trains and a chop frying, the gurgle of a tap-room pianola: if 
these should touch like hairs her nerves of memory the sober enchant- 
ment of that August might all return, its ardour and tranquillity, the 
expectancy coursing beneath its flat fatigue. This season contained per- 
haps the afterglow of another summer's tenderness; but the complex 
music was its own, the tone austere, the basal rhythm hard and urgent 
like the beat of hoofs. 



IIS 



14 



s. 



HE KNEW when that season was over. So often the feel of life 
alters imperceptibly, you cannot tell when a period of contentment 
began or ended. But she felt this change, reflectively, when it occurred. 

The day to be recorded for anniversaries was the second Tuesday 
in September. That was the date of finality. But the end really came 
five days before, and she recognized it by what they call a feeling in 
the bones. Nothing physical altered. The weather, which had been 
steady and warm by English standards, remained so ; there was no hint 
of autumn. On this Thursday afternoon she went to the Club by her 
usual route, through the familiar odours of Bait Lane. There were 
stripes of sunlight across the yard, a brown smoke beyond the build- 
ings on the river side. She thought suddenly, as she went up the creak- 
ing stairs, I suppose I shall go on doing this, day after day; but it has 
become a weariness now, it has lost its meaning. 

Gian had let her down the night before. She had arranged to meet 
him at the usual place and go with him to the Grover; he had not 
turned up, and she had heard later from one Ernie Heald who attended 
the bookkeeping classes that 'Toughie' had not been seen at the Insti- 
tute. As Gian was the last person of whom you expected regularity, that 
one default would not have put a curse upon this day. Something in 
his manner when she had last seen him, a furtive look, a hint of new 
development, may have started her train of uneasiness; or she may 
have felt superstitiously that the fair breeze which had followed her 
for several weeks was overdue to fail. 

Trevon arrived in a dry and poisonous humour: not one of his 
usual tempers, in which he would bounce and bellow at everyone who 
came near him, nor one of the sulks in which he wrapped himself when 
some boy was being a nuisance. Today he was cold and competent, he 
said a frigid ^Good-afternoon' and told her to bring in the petty cash 
book as if she were a junior clerk of doubtful honesty. Presently he 
called for her again (instead of making the room-to-room journey him- 
self, as he usually did) and in a prosy, let-you-off-first-time fashion 
pointed out an error in casting. ''Oh, and by the way—" he said, and 
stopped. "No — nothing." She went back to her own room. 

So that was how the wind was blowing I 

1x6 



When four days had passed, and Gian had not shown up at the 
Club or at the Grover, she decided to question Trevon explicitly. 

"I'm sorry to barge in, but can you spare me a few moments?" 

"Well, I'm really rather busy." 

"I only want to ask you one thing: have you stood Gian off for 
any reason?" 

"No, I haven't." Then, as she was going, he called after her: "Miss 
Cepinnier! I'll be quite honest — I've advised Ardree not to come here 
for two or three weeks. Advised — not ordered." 

"May I ask why?" 

"No, you mayn't. Well, yes, I suppose you ought to know. The 
boy's unhappy, and I think he'll be happier if he keeps away for a 
time. That's what it amounts to. Whatever's right or wrong with that 
chap, he's very honest. At least, he is with me." 

"And does the Club make him so frightfully unhappy?" 

"No— but you do." 

''How?" 

"Look here," he said, with his lips like stretched rubber, "you're 
forcing me to speak a lot more plainly than I want to — well, I was 
brought up in a vicarage, so perhaps my ideas about plain speaking are 
rather out-of-date. Listen: you probably imagine that Ardree thinks of 
you as just a nice kind friend, a sort of vest-pocket Sunday-school treat 
served up by the management every evening. Well, he might if 
you'd got a body like an old sack. Only you haven't — you know that. 
You may have been told by some blithering maiden aunt that only 
nasty-minded men ever think about a girl's body. Well, you might as 
well know from now on that that's plain pop-eyed balderdash. Every 
time you smile at Ardree you put just one idea in his head. And because 
you're what's called a lady, which means that he can't do anything 
about it, it's driving him pretty nearly cracked. You think you're being 
kind to him, and what you're really doing is giving him a special kind 
of hell." 

"I'm not trying to be kind," she said quickly, "I don't believe in 
all that sloppiness — I'm only giving him the chance that he ought to 
have." She paused, and a few moments passed before she said, with 
perfect steadiness: "But I think it was you who suggested my trying 
to do something for him?" 

"It wasn't, originally," he answered. "However, I made a crash- 



117 



ing blunder, if you like it that way. There were things I — under- 
estimated." 

"I suppose, then, my being here is a torture to all the boys?" 

"No," he said. "You've paid no special attention to any of the 
others, so they're comparatively not affected. At least, not the same 
way." 

"Because if so," she continued evenly, "I suppose I'd better leave, 
as you wanted me to. It's a pity, because I'm interested in the job. 
And of course I can't help having a body." 

"No," he said seriously, "you can't — of course you can't." 

"Well, I'm to leave, then?" 

She waited for him to speak, and in those few moments, with her 
mind sparked into incandescence, she seemed to see the issues wholly 
and clearly. By a final twist of stupid cruelty in the nature of things 
the campaign for Gian Ardree was evidently lost. Must everything else 
go overboard: the sense of vocation, the daily escape from Cromer's 
Ride, the boys' friendly cheerfulness, old Flock's good-humour, Trevon 
himself? She realized how much she had missed Trevon these last few 
days, in which he had been as much a stranger as if some other had 
taken his place. He was like an old mongrel that you keep from 
sentimentality, ill-tempered, lousy and diseased, but loved for its residue 
of loyalty. He had called Ardree honest, and she was ready to apply 
that term to Trevon himself. She had come to see him as a simple man 
perpetually confused by good intentions, raised high on crests of self- 
esteem and plunged into deep troughs of self-abasement; a creature 
with neither rudder nor ballast; yet one free from polite and hollow 
poses, incapable of mahce, whose devotion once bestowed would not 
easily be displaced. There was something else which had a certain 
importance: she was not a woman for nothing, she had not read books 
without enlarging the field of her observation or been betrothed to 
Gordon Aquillard without learning anything about the symptoms of 
secret tenderness: she was all but certain that Trevon was in love 
with her. 

"You see, Trevon," she said, when the silence was no longer endur- 
able, "it's all rather difficult for me to understand. It's only a few 
weeks ago you wanted me to go away because you said I hadn't the 
smallest chance of influencing Gian — and if I did he'd probably cut 
my throat. And now apparently I am influencing him and he hasn't 
cut my throat but I'm torturing him by having a body." All that came 

ii8 



as if she were reciting from Euclid. "So I suppose the answer is that 
I've got to go anyway." 

He said slowly: "I've told you already — some time ago — I like 
having you here. I — well, I do. Only that's not the only thing we've 
got-" 

But she would not let him meander again. 

"Please, Trevon, do you want me to go or don't you?" 

He hesitated once more, gnawing his lips, looking out of the 
window. One could almost pity his abject irresolution. 

"No," he said. "No, I don't." 

"And about Gian — " she pursued — "that of course is nothing to 
do with the Club at all. No, I'm not disputing your right to keep him 
away — of course you must do as you think best. But if I want to go 
on seeing him anywhere else I think you'll agree that that's my own 
affair." 

"In a sense it is. Only — " 

"It was very kind of you to tell me just what you think about it. 
I understand perfectly — everything you said. But of course I'm — 
well, I'm not a child, and I've got to do what I think best." 

The sting of a vicious blow may produce something akin to exalta- 
tion, pain comes a little way behind. In her own room at Cromer's Ride, 
her mind quieted by the dullness of things she knew, the Httle doll 
Christine once dressed for her, the stylized poppies of the wall-paper, 
she could start to measure the catastrophe: to wonder, presently, if 
something could be reclaimed. A year before she had seen the future 
as a tracing for her embroidery; and when a dozen words in a man's 
hesitant voice had rubbed the tracing out she had been left entirely 
purposeless. Since then she had drawn a pattern of her own and given 
all her powers to filling it. Could another man, with a sentence or two, 
destroy that one as well? The dragging, solitary hours in a graceless 
room, the embarrassments and terrors of Bidault's Place, the long strug- 
gle against successive disappointments ; were these all to pass into limbo 
with nothing achieved? 

She began a letter to her cousin Raymond, whom she often used 
as a tank for the overflow of her thoughts: he was a well-intentioned 
man of impenetrable stupidity who would always give her a kindly 
answer without understanding a word she said. 

It looks [she wrote] as if the Gian business will have to be 
abandoned. They're accusing me now of trying to vamp him — it's 



119 



extraordinary the number of ways people can find to prevent you 
doing what is obviously your duty. This is a disappointment, but 
I've been through so many of those that I feel thick-skinned enough 
to bear it. I think I've got older this last year or two. Anyway, 
I see everything quite clearly, I know there's no one to help me — 
I've given up expecting any news of Father — and having to decide 
everything for oneself does give one a certain power, as well as a 
kind of excitement. I don't think anyone could dispute the fact that 
I've had some influence on Gian, and that surely means that I can 
influence other people as well. And I honestly believe that one can 
find value in all kinds of unexpected places. This man Trevon Grist, 
for example, he's so obstinate and wilful and childishly jealous, 
and yet I believe there's something lovable in him if it could only 
be brought out . . . 

The door squeaked and she found Aunt Georgie standing behind 
her with a letter in her hand. 

'T did knock," Aunt Georgie said, "I don't think ypu heard. This 
came by the afternoon post. Rellie, darling, are you feeling all right?" 

"Yes, Georgie — ^why?" 

"I thought you were looking — oh well, I'm glad you're all right." 

The letter was from Elizabeth Kinfowell. 

. . . Surely it's time we saw each other, or we'll think we've 
quarrelled! I'm in my own flat all this week — Henry's in Shrop- 
shire with some friends of his and I'm getting things straight for 
him. Won't you come and have lunch — any day, only perhaps you'd 
ring beforehand just to make certain. 

No, definitely not! She had long since determined that her next 
meeting with Elizabeth would be on a day of triumph, and this, how- 
ever stoically she might face it, was one of defeat. But the need for 
sympathy is more compulsive than dog-eared resolutions. Next morning 
she telephoned immediately after breakfast. "Elizabeth dear, I'd love 
to come. Today?" 



120 



IS 



s 



HE LEFT early and went to the Club to get some work done so 
that she need not hurry back after lunch. Trevon was not there, no 
one was about except Slimey. "Slimey, do you happen to know where 
Mr Grist is?" Well, Mr Flock had said that Mr Grist had gone to see 
the doctor. "The doctor? Why, is there something wrong with him?" 
"Not that I know of. Mr Flock tell me Mr Grist go to see the doctor 
regular every week." At twelve she tidied up, put a note in Trevon's 
room to say that she would be in rather late and set out for Elephant 
Station. But here her programme was interrupted. 

As she went downstairs she saw that someone was standing in the 
entrance, in the posture of molten apathy which the poor acquire from 
interminable waiting. Anxious to get away, she hardly looked to see 
who it was, but this was a figure one would recognize in a race crowd: 
Daise Empire's. She stopped and put on her smile. 

"Can I help you? — I think we've met before." 

Daise answered the smile faintly with her eyes. She said in her 
twitter of a voice, "It was Gian I was looking for. I thought he might 
be here." 

He had not been to the Club for several days, Armorel told her. 
"But in any case he wouldn't be here at this time of day — he'll be at 
the Hibbage Lane depot." 

"No, miss, he's finished there. Got his pay-off." 

"What — dismissed?" But she did not at once take in the full 
significance of this. The girl was staring at her with those childlike eyes 
which she had found so disquieting in Bidault's Place, while the fear- 
ful mouth lolled like a half-deflated airship: Armorel's chief thought 
was of leaving that stare behind. 

"Well, then," she said, "you're most likely to find him at his home. 
You know where he lives?" 

"Yes— but he isn't there." ^ 

"Is it something very urgent?" 

"Well— yes." 

Armorel said sensibly: "Well, look here, the only thing you can 
do is to leave a message with me. You'd better come up to my room 
and I'll give you some paper. Then if by any chance he does come 
in I'll see that he gets it." 



121 



They went up to the Hbrary together. The message, which as far 
as Armorel could see had only a dozen words, took a fabulous time to 
write. 

"Do you want to put it in an envelope?" 

"Yes, please, miss." 

When she had stuck up the envelope, and painfully written 'G. 
Ardre' on the front, Daise stood still. Her mouth began to gather, evi- 
dently there was something she wanted to say. 

^ Armorel said: "Now I'm afraid I shall have to leave you and rush 
—I've got to keep an appointment. You'll find your way down all riehi 
won't you?" ' 

"Yes, miss, only — " 

"Yes?" 

"I was wondering if I could stay here till he come. I haven't got 
nowhere else to go. I'd do something— I'd scrub the place out—" 

Armorel said patiently: "But it isn't at all certain that he'll come 
in at all. I promise I'll give him your note if he does come." 

"But I can't go back without I seen him." 

"Well, then, I think your best plan is to go and wait at his home— 
I'm sure Mrs Ardree would give you a cup of tea or something. I'm 
so sorry I've got to rush away." 

In the tube she thought, Exactly! They whip me off and the first 
thing he does is to lose his job. For a moment she felt that she must go 
and try to find him before library opened; but no, people must learn. 

Relaxed on Elizabeth's sofa, she felt that she had been right to ac- 
cept the invitation. The last few days had been hke climax in arrest, as 
when the purpose of a party is exhausted but no one comes to announce 
the carriages, and the sense of overhanging storm had followed her 
into sleep, drawing Trevon's face into her dreams, rousing her in the 
early hours to lie half-awake with her head grinding in indecision. This 
room with its tall windows looking on to Treasurer's Court gave her 
what sleep had failed to give. Listening to the soft gaiety of Elizabeth's 
voice, describing the changes which were to be made in the flat, she felt 
detached and secure. She knew that Elizabeth herself was the main 
source of her tranquillity, and a shadow of resentment hngered that 
this creature had so much to give while she herself seemed always to 
be cast as receiver. But for this one hour she would let pride rest and 
give herself up to a passive contentment. 



122 



"But why should you want to change it at all?" she asked, her 
eyes touring the masterly panelled ceiling, the Pergoles medallions, the 
Amboyna and mahogany chairs. "It looks perfect to me." 

"I don't really want to/' Elizabeth said easily, "only Henry's 
bringing the Nicholedds here — you know the people? rubber and that 
sort of thing — and he wants the place re-done for them." 

"What, just for one visit?" 

"Oh, they may be here some time. Hilda Nicholedd's delicate. 
She doesn't like to have children about — she lost her own boy, poor 
thing — so I've had to send Michael into the country. And she doesn't 
like anything 'old-fashioned', it depresses her." 

Armorel said decisively: "People ought not to be like that." 

"But they are. You see, she's been rich all her life, which means 
that she hasn't had any real life — that's sometimes the disadvantage 
of starting off rich — so she has to find her interests in other ways. 
Some specialist in Geneva has told her that she will only be really well 
so long as she has blue and orange all round her." 

"And does she believe that?" 

"Yes, for the time being. Later on she'll feel off-colour and she'll 
pay the man another ten thousand francs and he'll prescribe a dash 
of purple. No, I mustn't laugh at poor Hilda, she really does have a 
lot of trouble with her health. And her husband's a very busy man, 
and sometimes perhaps — ? — rather difficult." 

"Aren't all men difficult?" 

"Well, perhaps they are. But in different ways. They're more com- 
plex than we are." 

"Do you really believe that? I mean, really complex, not just full 
of whims and postures?" 

Elizabeth said: "Well, yes, I do. But perhaps I oughtn't to 
generalize. Nearly all the men I've known really well have been soldiers, 
and I've known them best when they were homesick and frightened. 
Perhaps you get a wrong idea then — you see them too large. Still, I like 
to go on thinking that men are nearly all like those. You see, when 
they're miserable they're so terribly unselfish, so unbelievably kind." 

The curried eggs were on the table. She went to close the hatch 
and stopped at the wheeling tray beside it to pour out sherry. 

"I suppose Duffy's told you the news?" she said. "About Gordon 
coming back early next year. He's decided not to do another year in 
America." 



123 



Armorel said: "Oh, that's rather a pity, I should think." 

Elizabeth brought the sherry over. 

"Of course, he'll want you to meet him." 

Armorel shook her head. "I'm afraid I shan't." She took her place 
at the table. "How awfully good this looks! You know, this is quite 
marvellous after having lunch in a tea-shop almost every day for 
weeks." 

But Elizabeth was abstracted. She asked presently, as if their talk 
had not been broken: 

"You definitely don't — you haven't any feeling for him any more?" 

"No, I don't think so. I really haven't thought about it for quite 
a long time." 

A silence came like a ground mist rising. Then Elizabeth said: 
"I only thought — now that that other interest of yours doesn't seem 
to be coming to much, that boy you wanted to help — " 

"But, Elizabeth dear, who said it wasn't?" 

"No one. Only, as you hadn't said anything, I thought — " 

Armorel said slowly: "No, I haven't done with Gian. I've got him 
on to a building course at the Grover Institute — that's the sort of 
thing he's likely to be good at — but whether he'll stick to it I can't say. 
Anyhow, I'm not going to interfere for a bit — it's no use spoon-feeding 
a man all the time. I'm going to leave him quite alone for a week or 
two — perhaps a couple of months — and see how he gets on." 

That was truthful by the time she had finished saying it. For here, 
with the Venetian tumblers and the repousse silver, with this woman 
who dispassionately accepted all experience, she felt a coolness and 
assurance of her own coming first to her voice and then to her mind. 
When the babas au rhum arrived she was describing the life of Hol- 
lysian House, lightly and with touches of exaggeration, as she felt that 
Elizabeth herself would have described it. ". . . Yes, Slimey's a darhng, 
quite terrified of women, the poor dear blushes whenever he sees me, 
and he sort-of puts a collar and tie on his voice before he speaks. . . ." 
Coffee came through the hatch and Elizabeth called: "Lucy dear, you 
ought to go now or you'll be late for your show. I'll clear these things 
away." They took the coffee into Elizabeth's own room. "It's cosier 
here," Elizabeth said. "This is the one that's going to be Hilda's room. 
I shall miss it, rather." Armorel said absently: "Yes, that does seem a 
shame." 

She had meant to say nothing at all about Trevon ; for with Trevon 

124 



she was at that stage where thoughts are too dehcate to withstand the 
gentlest dayHght. But the little chair she sat in enclosed her with com- 
fort, and Elizabeth, curled on a cushion and restfully stirring the coffee 
beside her, smiling with closed lips at Armorel's lovely arms and hands, 
was like a pool where only gentleness and grace would be reflected. 
She found herself saying: 

"Yes, to begin with he had quite a wrong impression of me, I 
suppose he'd suffered so much from meddling females and naturally 
he thought I was just another of them. You see, he's really a very 
simple creature, all that bluster is just put on for self-protection. He 
could be awfully kind, but he's frightened to be. What he really wants 
is someone to look after him. But he's obviously had nothing to do 
with girls — I shouldn't wonder if he's still brooding over some frightful 
warning his housemaster gave him in a solemn end-of-term talk. So on 
the face of it he's rather a hopeless case. Only one can't help being 
interested in hopeless cases." 

Elizabeth did not immediately answer. An answer did come to 
her tongue but she put that one back into hiding. She said, "You'll 
have another cup? Well, I'll just put these things out of the way," 
and took the tray back to the dining-room. Returning, she sat on the 
side of her bed. There she seemed taller, and for the first time today she 
looked as if she were in pain. She said abruptly, with that serious smile 
which must belong to some memory: 

"Armorel dear, they're not! They're not simple. It's one of those 
catchwords which women pass on from one generation to another, it 
makes men suffer and then we suffer in our turn." 

Surprised, Armorel protested: "But that wasn't exactly what I 
said. I only said — " 

"It's nothing that you said," Elizabeth interrupted, "it's what 
you've been thinking all this time." She paused, she looked wretched 
now. "You see, I just happen to have known a lot of people, and I've 
been in love, really in love. You don't know people until you love them 
intensely, you've got to give everything before you get everything. 
I've known what men are like when all the barriers are down, I've 
known them when they're loving and when they're dying. That's why 
I'm frightened when I hear girls talking as if men were just children. 
It's become a complex with me, if you like Duffy's word, I hear that sort 
of talk going on all round me, and I think, 'That means more misery — 
for him and for her.' " 



125 



"You mean — ?" Armorel asked very quietly. 

It looked for a moment as if Elizabeth could not speak again, as 
if her lips had frozen and she had to thaw them with her tongue. 
"I mean," she said, "you've made one man most desperately unhappy 
because you thought he was simple and were shocked when you found 
that he wasn't — " 

" — No, it wasn't that! No, I never thought he was simple I I only 
thought—" 

" — and now because you're disappointed and restless you're trying 
to persuade another one to love you. You imagine you could be happy 
with him because you think he's fundamentally naive. Well, yes, his 
feeling for you is probably simple enough, it's what any man's feeling 
is for a girl who's young and beautiful — supremely beautiful. But that 
isn't the same as love. You can't make happiness grow from anything 
as superficial as that." 

"You mean," Armorel told her, looking away, "that you yourself 
haven't." 

"Yes — if you like — that's what I mean." 

"So you think I ought to go to Gordon and tell him I made a 
mistake — that I wasn't really angry with him for deceiving me, or that 
I shouldn't have been!" 

"No, not that," Elizabeth said. "Only go to him. Or just let him 
come to you." 

Armorel answered: "It would mean that." 

Presently Elizabeth slipped down from the bed and sat on the arm 
of Armorel's. chair. 

"You know," she said soberly, "you are a very sweet and tolerant 
person, I don't think anyone else would be sweet-tempered enough to 
put up with me in the way you've done." 

It seemed as if Armorel did not hear those words. She sat as still 
as if some fever held her, looking at the pattern of the carpet and 
faintly smiling. It came as a surprise when she spoke again, in a voice 
that seemed to come from a distance but was neither tremulous nor 
husky : 

"I don't think that Trevon would marry anyone he didn't love. 
You see, I know him rather well. No, he wouldn't marry anyone unless 
he loved her." 

Elizabeth said: "So he's asked ycTu?" 

"No. But I know he's going to. And even I can't always be wrong." 

126 



Elizabeth touched her shoulder. It was hardly a gesture, it could 
have been only an accidental movement. "And now," she said with 
sadness, "I've spoilt everything — everything between us. And I did so 
want not to spoil it." 

"Why should you have spoilt it?" Armorel answered distantly. 
She had not moved her shoulder. "I think it's better when people know 
about each other. You see now — don't you? — that I'm quite grown-up 
in the way I understand things. I know where I'm going, and I never 
give in. I've always wanted you to understand that." 

There was another silence, until Elizabeth said: "One moment — 
I think I heard someone at the door." 

The entrance halls in those flats are small ; the front doors are only 
a few feet away from the doors of the principal rooms. When Armorel 
heard a man saying "Can you give me five minutes? — I'm fearfully 
sorry — rather at my wits' end," she could not fail to recognize Trevon's 
voice. She just heard Elizabeth saying, "Armorel's here." After an 
interval they came into the room where she was sitting. 

There was hardly any awkwardness: they were civilized, and 
civilization gives a drill for behaviour on which people can fall back. 
"I don't think I need introduce you!" Elizabeth said. Trevon said: 
"Hullo, Susie, we seem to have picked the same day." His smile, 
Armorel thought, was peculiar, as he stood enormously just inside the 
door, holding his appalling hat; had she not known that he never 
drank anything she would have thought he was slightly drunk. 

"I got your note, thanks awfully," he said rather absently. "I was 
out visiting all morning." 

"Slimey said you'd gone to the doctor." 

That seemed to startle him. "Slimey's a know-all," he said curtly, 
and turned to Elizabeth. "You know, it's very agreeable to look at 
Susie in an appropriate setting. I'm so used to seeing her in that filthy 
Club, it makes me feel like an ogre holding the fair maiden in captiv- 
ity." He threw his hat on the bed and sat down, knees wide apart, as if 
the chair had been reserved for him. 

Armorel said: "Perhaps I ought to be getting back." 

"But why?" Trevon objected. "There's nothing you can do in the 
Club at this time of day unless I'm there. You know, INIrs Kinfowell, 
Susie's got to think she runs that outfit." 



127 



'^She was telling me only a moment ago," Elizabeth said, "how 
you've got the whole thing at your fingers' ends." 

"I have," he said gravely. "After — what is it, four, five, six years? — 
I really have got these yahoos under control. I've stopped them smoking 
by pinching their cigarettes, I've abolished bullying by calling it 'leader- 
ship', I've stamped out bad language by telling them it's bloody un- 
dignified." He was standing up again, he began to move about as far as 
the small room and his large body allowed, flapping the sides of his 
jacket like a wet hen, relishing fiercely his own garrulity. "So Susie 
thinks I'm good! So do I! I think I'm magnificent. A very prince among 
club wardens, a virtuoso in club-wardenship." 

"Tell me," Elizabeth said rather shortly, "did you really want to 
see me about something? Because if not it's a pity you've come and 
spoilt our nice party." 

"It can wait," he said, lugubriously collecting his hat. "I didn't 
mean to interfere with a nice little women's chat. I return to my tread- 
mill. Ladies, your most obedient!" 

Armorel stopped him. "Trevon, listen! If you want to talk to 
Mrs Kinfowell I'll go away. I can clear the table and wash up, can't 
I, Elizabeth?" 

"No, I'm going to do that. You stay where you are and keep Mr 
Grist amused till I get back." 

"She can't," he said. "I see her every day. She no longer amuses 
me. Lead me to the scullery and show me your clouts." 

With determined quietness, Armorel asked him: "Was it about 
me and Gian?" 

That was a question which had to be answered more promptly than 
a man's wit allows. Smiling, Elizabeth said: "It was more probably 
about his health. Just because I was a nurse during the war he 
thinks — " 

"When," asked Trevon stonily, "have I talked to you about my 
health?" 

"I thought you told me, some time ago — " 

"I didn't!" he said obstinately and with a note of childish temper. 
"I talk to my doctor about my health, and to no one else." 

"Oh, I'm sorry, Trevon. I really didn't—" 

Armorel said to Trevon: "So you come here quite a lot?" 

"Two or three times so far," he said. "Is that a scandal?" 

"No, only it's just — curious that you never told me." 

128 



She was looking at Elizabeth; who, where another woman might 
have turned away, looked back at her rather as a mother will look at 
her son when by some sentence or gesture he shows that his dependence 
on her is coming to its end; and who said slowly: 

"You see, he was worried about you — you and Gian. He knew 
I was fond of you, and so he came to me. Armorel dear, I know it all 
sounds horribly furtive, when I put it just like that. But you see, we 
were both so terribly anxious not to hurt you, not to hurt any of your 
feelings." 

Armorel said with control: "I don't quite see why neither of you 
could have come to me and explained." 

Trevon said: "But I have, haven't I! I've explained it as far as. 
you can explain about a creature like Ardree. Only it's perfectly hope-^ 
less, because you insist on thinking that I'm prejudiced against him,, 
whereas I'm exactly the opposite. At least, I am now. I think he's a 
very unhappy man, and I'm fond of him. But I also think he's damned 
dangerous, and anyone who doesn't understand him had better keep 
miles away from him. I've tried and tried to persuade you of that." 

"Yes," she said, "I know you've told me over and over again that 
I don't understand him. Only since I'm perfectly certain I do — " 

"You can't! You can't understand a man like that unless you're. 
a man yourself — and fundamentally a rotten one." 

She said wearily: "Must you be cheap and theatrical!" 

"Yes," he answered, "I must. I must do something to try and get 
some sense into you." 

It was Elizabeth then who said, without raising her voice: "Trevon, 
in my house you're not to talk like that. Certainly not to Armorel." 

"Oh, I'm to clear out then?" 

"But surely you won't, without apologizing? No, not to me — 
you've only been ill-mannered to me. Bad manners don't hurt me any 
more." 

"Elizabeth," he said, "I'm frightfully sorry. I'm always like this 
after I've seen that doctor. He gets on my nerves." 

"Listen!" Her voice came like a line drawn against a ruler. "You've 
got to try and be sensible, both of you. Armorel, you know what I've 
been thinking. And so do you, Trevon. I think you're dangerous to each 
other and I think you'd better keep apart. If I were you, Armorel, I'd 
get some job and if possible go abroad. So long as this disappointment 
over Gian is on your mind you'd do much better to keep as far away 



I 



129 



from London as you can. I'm sorry if I sound like a schoolmistress, but 
I see no point in talking gently to people who are fogged with disorderly 
emotions. I've seen too much of that. Well, I'm going to get the washing- 
up done. You can both do just what you like — there are cigarettes in 
that box over there. Please go exactly when you want to — and I per- 
sonally don't mind if you don't bother to come back." 

But having left .the room she returned immediately and stood 
regarding them both with the look men have in the earliest hours of 
bereavement. In a voice emptied of virtue, like elastic that has perished, 
she said: "I didn't quite mean that — the last thing I said." She went 
to Armorel, bent swiftly and kissed her hair; waited for just an in- 
stant, with her still, shocked eyes on Trevon's face, and then left them. 
Presently they heard the jingle of a tray being carried, and the kitchen 
door opening and shutting. 

Clumsily (for he fitted an elegant room as poorly as he fitted his 
clothes, he was the wrong size and shape for life above stairs) Trevon 
moved towards Armorel's chair and sat on its arm. She, guided by 
intuition as precisely as an actress is directed, got up to replace the 
book she had taken and stayed on that side of the room, leaning 
against the bed. She said: 

"I'm going to stay here and rest for a bit. I'll be back at the Club 
by about half-past four — that'll give me time to finish your letters be- 
fore shop opens." 

He seemed not to hear that. Assuming, as men do, that her thoughts 
should run the way of his own, he said rather quietly: "It does seem to 
me that Elizabeth — dearly as I love her — is sometimes more dogmatic 
than she should be. When I said the doctor had put me on edge she 
seemed to think I was spinning a yarn. As it happens, it was perfectly 
true." 

She did not answer. There was a night-gown of Elizabeth's on the 
bed, she picked it up and studied the exquisite Venetian rose point at 
the collar. 

"I go to him once a week," he continued. "This was a special visit, 
actually. I wanted him to tell me if I could leave off the weekly visits 
now. But I suppose all this doesn't interest you." 

"You look very well." 

"Yes, but unfortunately his answer was 'No'. Not for the time 
being, anyway. Later, perhaps — he couldn't be sure." 

130 



"Oh." 

"Well, anyway, that was one of the things I wanted to talk to 
Elizabeth about. The other of course was the Ardree business. I wanted 
advice from someone who wasn't involved, and it had to be a woman, 
because I don't follow how women look at things. I thought I did once 
— but it was only the way they look at some things. Well, there you are. 
I was to apologize, wasn't I? Well, I'm not very good at that." 

She said quickly: "I don't want you to. Of course, it hurt me, your 
coming here without letting me know. I thought — I thought you knew 
me well enough, I didn't think you'd need to hide things." 

"Yes," he said, "looking at it that way, I can see it was treating 
you fairly badly." He moved to sit beside her on the bed, he hung the 
hat on the toe of his boot and there rotated it with a juggler's concen- 
tration. "I suppose I've always treated you badly. That's because I'm 
always frightened of myself. Not that that's an excuse." 

"No," she said, "you've really been awfully kind to me. Letting 
me come in the first place, letting me make changes in a show that 
was going perfectly well already and didn't want any interference. And 
I know I've given you a lot of anxiety." 

"Kind to you?" he repeated. 

"Yes," she said, "tremendously kind." 

She had not meant her voice to go flaccid and moist. The effort to 
keep it steady seemed to have defeated itself. Wearily, she leaned right 
back to let her head rest on the counterpane where the pillows were 
and put her arm across her eyes. 

"How?" he asked. 

"By being just what you are, by not treating me as a young lady." 
She went on presently: "That's why I've loved it so, being accepted, 
being just part of something. I know there were things we didn't agree 
about. But that hasn't really made any difference. Whatever you said, 
I knew you were never really hostile. I shouldn't have felt I belonged 
if you'd always been polite, I'd have felt I was in the way all the time. I 
couldn't be fond of a place where people treated me as a sort of 
Sacred Institution." 

"Isn't that just how Flock does treat you?" 

"Flock's a darling, but . . . you've all been very sweet to me. 
Vye loved it all, I've been so terribly happy." 

I Waiting for him to answer, she lay perfectly still. With her eyes 
closed she could feel that he was watching her intently, that his face 



131 



had come nearer to hers. But the weight of his body beside her knees 
did not move. 

When a few empty moments had passed, he said: "I think it's 
about time I was getting back. Are you coming along?" 

In the automatic lift, standing feet apart with his face to the wall, 
he said: "I think on the whole that Elizabeth was right ... I sup- 
pose a taxi is indicated — have you by any chance got any money on 
you? I'm afraid I never seem to have any." While they were waiting 
on the pavement, he said: "What I mean is, I suppose we'd better get 
right away from each other. You see, I'm the sort of person that you — 
don't want to have too much to do with. At present, anjrway. Well, 
give it a few months, a year perhaps — I may be a bit different then 
. . . There never is one of these bloody cabs when you want one." 
When he could no longer fail to see that she was weeping, he said: 
"Susie, I hate having upset you like this. I only wish to God I was the 
sort of person it was worth you or anyone else getting upset about." 

When a taxi came he put her in with as much gentleness as he 
had at his command, and they travelled together as far as the turn 
into Knightsbridge. There, as they waited for the traffic to open, he 
said as naturally as was possible even for him: "Oh, damn, I've for- 
gotten something. Look here, you go on, I'll come along in the tube." 
Without looking at her again he jumped out, just as the car was 
gathering speed, slammed the door behind him, recovered his balance, 
apologized angrily to a man he'd nearly knocked over, and walked off 
quickly the way they had come. 



i6 



B 



ACK at the Club it took her less than ten minutes to get her own 
things together: a propelling pencil and a wooden paper-cutter 
rather crudely inscribed 'For A. Ceppinier, a Popular Dorm Monitor, 
Michaelmas 1918'; the small hanging mirror with the snapshot of her 
father stuck in the corner, her brush and comb and slippers. The whole 
lot could be squeezed into her slim attache-case. She allowed herself 



132 



to open the index box and glance over the neatly headed cards: it was 
some sort of memorial to leave. But she knew they would go back to 
the old sloppy methods before she had been gone a week. 

An envelope lay upside down on her table: she remembered only 
when she had turned it over that this was the note Daise Empire had 
left for Gian. It was poorly stuck-up, and naturally, now that she was 
alone, she opened it. It said: 'Dear Jan He is bringing them in again 
you said to tell you Your loving Daise.' She stuck the flap down again 
and took the note to Flock, who was in the billiard room: "Sergeant 
Flock, if Ardree happens to come in this evening you might give him 
this. It was left by some friend of his. Don't forget." "You're not com- 
ing in again this evening?" he asked. She said: "No, not this evening. 
Not at all, in fact." She hurried down the stairs, anxious to be right 
away before Trevon came. 

From the call-box at the end of Flanders Street she rang Duffy's 
flat but got no reply. 

Her course now was erratic. She walked rapidly to the place where 
she most often got her bus and waited there for perhaps a minute. When 
no bus came she went on in the same direction and turned into Alder- 
man's Field, where she rested for some time on one of the seats. Then, 
with the energy which increases in some when there is no load for it 
to take, she walked north again towards the Elephant, and in twenty 
minutes she arrived at Mrs Ardree's shop. 

When she had waited for some time in the empty shop it was Simon 
Ardree who came; unshaven, very dirty, and looking as if he had just 
been wakened. Seeing a customer of this rather unusual kind he auto- 
matically wiped his sleeve across his face. "Yes?" he asked. 

"I haven't come to buy anything," she said; her voice was de- 
liberate, gentle, dignified. "I'm a friend of your son Gian's — we know- 
each other at Hollysian House. He hasn't been there for some time and 
I just came to see if he was all right." 

"All right?" Slowly digesting her words, he twisted his head on 
the long, peculiar neck which appeared to work like an adjustable 
reading-lamp, peering at one side of her face and then the other wnth 
bunched eyes as a milliner does. "You're from Damien Street?" he 
asked. 

"No, no, I'm nothing to do with the police. I'm from Hollysian 
House — the boys' club, you know." 



133 



Before long he arrived at her meaning, and he asked: "Would 
you be Miss Spinnier? Ah, then I've heard tell about you." 

"Yes, Gian and I are very good friends. He isn't in at present, I 
suppose?" 

"Been in," he said closely. "Gone out again.'' 

"You don't know — where?" 

"I'd like it if I did." 

As anyone could have seen, the main flow of his thoughts had 
been through another channel. The streams came together now. With- 
out warning he raised the flap in the counter and came to the front 
of the shop. 

"See now," he said, "what are you to do? A lad like that, all but 
a grown man, you can't thrash him, you can't lock him up, can you 
now? If he don't want to say what he's about, well, what's to make 
him? 'I'm not doing nothing what's wrong,' he says. 'Nothing what 
seems to me wrong,' he says. Same now as with this dwarf young 
woman who come round, he can't mean no harm with her, it wouldn't 
be natural, with a creature like that, not the way I look at it. We're 
none of us saints in heaven, as you might say — " 

Armorel interrupted: "You're talking about Daise Empire? Has 
she been here today? Did she leave any message?" 

"Nothing but what she wanted to see him. I had to tell him that 
— that's only keeping a promise, see. He come in not long after dinner, 
bit of a mess he looked to be in, looked as if he could do with a bite. 
'There ain't no jobs. Dad,' he says, 'there ain't no jobs in the whole of 
London,' he says. (He got no contax, you see, the same as what I 
have. There's people that know me, no matter where you go.) 'Been 
a young woman in after you,' I says. 'Who?' he says, 'young lady from 
the Club?' he says. 'Well, she didn't say nothing about no club,' I says, 
'young woman with a dial the size of Big Ben, kind of a freak,' I says. 
'Well, I'm off,' he says, without never taking his cap off or a bite of 
some't to eat. 'Back sometime,' he says. Only then he come back — 
well, ten minutes, as it might be. 'That knife,' he says, 'the one you 
got from America, I know a bloke what'll give it a clean-up for you. 
You just let me have it,' he says. 'Now listen,' I says, 'you want to be 
careful with a thing like that,' I says, 'You get in a bit of scrapping 
with a lot of other lads,' I says, 'someone gets himself hurt, and then 
what?' I says. Well, what's the good? You can't talk to a lad like that, 
not far off a full-grown man, see. I ask him where he's going, 'Oh, 



134 



nowhere,' he says, 'Back sometime/ he says. Well, what can I do? — 
I got the shop to mind, the missis being out and all, you see the way 
it is." He jerked his head into a fresh position and searched Armorel's 
face forlornly, as if he would see the answer to all his problems written 
there as soon as he could get it into focus. "I mean to say, with an 
English lad you know where you are. Not that I'd say a word again 
his mum, she been a good mum to him, you won't find a better nor 
truer woman than what she is no matter where you go, an I seen some 
places in my tirne. Spent most of my time sailoring, though the theatre 
business is my profession as you might say, just to put a word on it. 
I mind the time I first see Gian — in Genoa that was — well, you wouldn't 
have known but what he was pure Grindie." 

There were two more customers waiting now, but it made no 
difference: he was obviously ready to go on all night. Armorel said 
briskly : 

"One minute! These people are waiting to be served." 
He dealt with them quickly enough. Sock suspenders? Well, he 
had some, but he wouldn't recommend them. The customer would do 
better to go to one of the drapery places in the main road . . . Three- 
pennorth of peppermint diamonds? There she was — twopence, that 
would be, they weren't worth more, the stuff they sent you nowadays. 
But before the business was finished Armorel had smiled, murmured 
something about a call in Mickett Lane, and slipped away. 

No faltering now, no self-questioning, no searching back through 
the feverish, haunted pathways she had traversed today. 

The catch of the overloaded attache-case had broken ; once already 
the contents had fallen into the street, and since then she held it 
clinched between her arm and her party frock, where it fidgeted and 
rubbed. A shoulder-strap tore loose, letting her slip fall below the 
skirt; and as she walked at top speed, occasionally breaking into a run, 
one of the new shoes was sawing deeply into the back of her heel. 
They stared, the children sitting along the kerb, the women at their 
doors, as she hobbled and ran; a boy on the back of a lorry yelled 
"Late for Ascot!" but for the most part they watched her in tolerant, 
unsmiling silence. The breeze, up-ending her wide-brimmed hat, had 
dragged a shock of hair out of its place, and however often she 
crammed it back with her free hand it tumbled loose again across her 
damp forehead and her eye. 



135 



She stopped just once; that was at the entrance to Bidault's Place; 
stopped and fiddled with a safety-pin, trying to get the slip fixed up, 
recovering her breath. In five minutes or less her body would have 
cooled and then, perhaps, she would have considered this last throw 
coolly. That did not happen. She went on into the place, which ab- 
sorbed her as an old, recurring dream does. It was six o'clock. 

The men that she had seen there before, or others out of the 
same press, stood listlessly against the wall almost opposite Empire's 
house; men with grey, slack faces and dead stumps of cigarettes stuck 
to their lips. From them she had the impetus she needed. She knocked 
fiercely at Empire's door, and when Daise answered it went straight 
inside. 

She asked rather breathlessly, rather peremptorily, "Is Gian here?" 

Daise had withdrawn a pace along the passage, which was dark 
with the front door shut, and heavy with her scent. There she stood 
planted, looking about her like a trapped field-mouse, and her great 
vermilion mouth started to giggle. 

"Is he, please?" Armorel demanded. 

"No . . . No, he was here, he's gone away now." 

And at this moment Armorel heard, from the back of the house, 
Gian's cough. 

"I think you've made a mistake," she said. "Perhaps he's in the 
back yard?" and she tried to push past down the passage. 

Daise immediately moved her small body to block the way. "He's 
ill," she snapped. "You can't see him. This is my dad's house, you've 
got no warrant nor nothing." 

Armorel called loudly: "Gian! I want to see you!" 

"Who's that?" a woman shouted from upstairs. 

Daise suddenly moved aside. "All right!" she said, "you can see 
him if you want." 

The shallow back room, lit from its lean-to roof, was hot and stale 
with the smells of cigarette-ash and rancid butter. The remains of a 
lawn-mower were spread all over a basket chair, there was a gas-cooker 
which prevented the door from fully opening and beside it a tin bath on 
a folding table, a plate rack festooned with socks and underclothes. 
Gian lay on a sofa smoking. 

Armorel, standing just inside the door (there was barely room to 
go further), said: "Gian, your father's sent to ask you to come home. 

136 



He wants you as quickly as possible. He'd have come himself, but he 
had to look after the shop." 

"I couldn't stop her coming in," Daise told him. 

Gian did not move. "You tell him I'll be coming," he said. 

Yes, he was ill. Ill or drunk, but she thought it was illness. He lay 
in the stillness of exhaustion, pallid and sweating. His eyes, wide open, 
were fastened on her face, but she could not be certain that he saw 
her: she had seen eyes rather like these in people trying to concentrate 
after standing all night in a train, and she had the feeling, which comes 
occasionally in the presence of the very sick, that she stood upon the 
far circumference of a circle in which he was the centre. With his body 
lying so still, as the effigies lie in the twilight of a cathedral transept, 
his individuality had grown. 

Abruptly, but without roughness, Daise pushed Armorel aside and 
went to stand by his head. "You better do like she says, Jan. You make 
me scared, you being here." 

He smiled then, looking up at her; took a mouthful of smoke 
and blew it out contentedly through his nose. "You won't be scared 
long," he said. 

Daise said urgently: "I get on all right, I do really. You go on 
home, you leave me, I'll get on all right." 

"Course you're all right!" he said with obstinacy. "Only I want 
to see your dad, that's all. Old pals, that's all. Should be here by now. 
What's the time?" 

"It's gone six." 

"Gone six?" He seemed to come awake, he turned and let his 
feet fall to the floor. "I want another fag," he said petulantly. "These 
your dad's, these here? Well, he can stand it. It's hot in here. No, don't 
you open that, I want it shut, see! Too many folk in here, that's what's 
wrong with it. That one over there, that one from Mr Grist's, you tell 
her to go, Daise, I don't want her round here." 

"I'm not going," Armorel said quietly, "unless you come." 

Daise, sitting beside him now, stroking his shoulder as one idly 
strokes a kitten's fur, said: "You better leave him, miss, he's all right 
with me." 

The thump which sounded on the front door brought the three of 
them, the house itself, to silence. Gian was on his feet and they stood 
like actors in the wings. Perhaps five seconds had passed when Gian 
said in a small voice, "Well, aren't you going to let him in?" 



137 



Daise went out into the passage, shutting the door behind her. 
Gian pushed past Armorel to stand with his face close to the door. 
They heard Empire's voice saying: "... nine o'clock, see?" and 
immediately afterwards Daise's: "... wants to see you, she's been 
bad all day." Presently the room shook slightly from the fall of Em- 
pire's feet on the stairs. 

Armorel found that she was sitting on the sofa. The pain in her 
heel where the shoe rubbed had become acute, but in the translucent 
lethargy which had absorbed her she could suffer it almost with the 
interest of a detached observer. From this tired stillness of the body her 
senses were drawing a peculiar sharpness. Her ears searched for noises 
within the house, but as men fighting will notice and remember the 
song of a blackbird she heard with great distinctness the contingent 
sounds of the world outside, a factory hooter which might be out to- 
wards Heme Hill, a tram going over the points at Mickett Cross. Her 
gaze came round to Gian's back, and having reached it, rested there. 
His body was trembling a Httle, as if he were a child put to stand in a 
corner and weeping with shame; she was nearer to pure pity for him 
now than she had ever been. Even when his hand, shaking, came round 
to the back of his trousers, felt its way into the pocket stretched by a 
shape she could not mistake, she experienced no fear of him except the 
fear that her body started of itself, slowing the response of her muscles, 
tightening painfully the mechanism of her throat. 

He turned round very slowly, controlling his body as an acrobat 
does at the climax of his performance. He had on his face that smile 
which men will sometimes wear when their stomachs have been torn 
by shrapnel. With his fingers on the handle of the door he said softly, 
almost voicelessly, "You're going now, see! You do best keep clear 
away from this place. You better be sharp — I'm telling you." 

She went towards him. Matching her voice to his she said: "Gian, 
look — you've got to be sensible. Listen! Everybody loses a job at one 
time or another. What I'm going to do is to help you find — " 

He caught her by the arm. "Shup! You're going, see!" Using only 
his left hand, with its fingers gripping like a dog's teeth, he got her 
facing the door, while with his right hand he carefully opened it. He 
said in her ear: "Out through the yard, see. I don't want you nosing 
round any more, see!" His pinched voice was one quite new to her, less 
the voice of a man raging than of one choked with bitter, childish tears; 

138 



he was still holding her arm. "There'll be things happening if you don't 
keep off. You understand!" 

He pushed her out into the passage and let her go. He would have 
shut the door immediately behind her, but she put back a foot to stop 
it. She turned and said very quietly: "I'm going to get the police. I'm 
sorry, Gian, but it's all I can do." 

She went out into the yard as he had told her, and through a 
broken gate into the patch of waste ground beyond. There, in a mo- 
ment's faintness, she stopped and leaned against a derelict wash-stand 
which was propped against the fence. Her ears went on straining for 
some sound from Empire, but all they caught was the sick, peevish 
voice of the woman she had heard before: "I won't have it, Charlie, 
I've told you, I won't have it . . . There are things I can do . . ." 
She hurried on to a gap between the houses which led her back to the 
road. 

She went as fast as she could without actually running towards 
Mickett Lane, still clasping the attache-case under her arm, oblivious 
now of the pain in her heel, of the broken shoulder-strap, the men star- 
ing. But when she had covered only a few yards she heard rapid steps 
behind and then the voice of Daise, panting, "Miss Spinyer! Miss 
Spinyer, will you come back, please, and speak to Gian! " Without turn- 
ing she answered, "I'm going to get the police," and increased her pace, 
but Daise caught up and seized her by the arm, crying, "No, not the 
police! Please, miss, not the police!" and they went on side by side, 
with Daise repeating, "There's no call for any police, truly there ain't, 
he's just wrought up, he's out of work, that's all it is," until they were 
nearly opposite the upholsterer's shop. There a third figure came up 
behind them: it was that of Gian himself. 

Some of the people looking idly from their windows in IVIickett 
Lane had watched her on her way to Bidault's Place. They were now to 
witness a still more interesting spectacle. From the passage under 
Coronation Building the Bond Street-looking girl emerged again, walk- 
ing with a combination of dignity and speed which appeared more 
curious because at every second pace one foot seemed to be giving way. 
She had the attache-case in both arms now, rather as the inexpert carry 
a baby; her hat was down over one ear, the slip hung far below her 
dress; and her face, which some recounting the affair were to describe 
as terrified, others as merely angry, was glistening with the pin-heads 
of sweat which trickled from her temples down her cheeks and nose. 



139 



Close behind her and a little to one side, keeping position as an out- 
sider would, a young workman whom some recognized by his yellow 
shirt was slouching along with his hands in his pockets, chin down on 
his furred chest, his dead eyes set forward as if on an aiming mark; 
while at his left side the misshapen girl who belonged to Empire, her 
vast mouth in ceaseless gesticulation, kept up to within a pace or two 
by working her tiny legs like a hedger's shears. This small procession, 
with its own escort of ribald children, moved steadily down the street 
and looked as if it would go straight through to the main road; but as 
it drew level with Begbie's Store an elderly woman, coming out of the 
shop with a dog on a piece of cord, ran up to the Bond Street girl call- 
ing, "There! You're the one who knows about Mr Jenkins!" and the 
girl, faltering, wheeled off into Amersham Row. 

Heald, the owner of Begbie's Store, with a villager's nose for local 
interest, came out on the pavement in time to see the girl stop by the 
back door of old Mrs Pewell's house, which had been empty and under 
repair. Even at a distance of thirty to forty yards he could tell that 
she was rattled. He stood gazing with mild curiosity while she tried the 
handle, shoving against the door with her shoulder, and when it would 
not give he saw her turn to face her pursuers. At this point, after 
calling to his wife to mind the shop, he wiped his hands on his apron 
and crossed the street for a better view. 

The scene, when he approached, rewarded him rather tamely. 
There was no movement at all. The girl, standing with her back against 
the door, was faintly smiling in the way that sick people smile when 
they want to spare their friends. With Mrs Inch and a trio of inquisi- 
tive children the young workman and his companion made a small 
crescent before her, the man a little closer than the others with his eyes 
intent upon her body in a way Heald didn't care for, his right hand 
working as if the fingers were frozen and he was trying to thaw them. 
Only Mrs Inch was talking, as an old trouper goes on with her patter 
when the rest of the company have forgotten their parts: holding 
precariously to her place on the kerb, while her dog strained towards 
the livelier smells of Mickett Lane, she delivered a crackling fire of 
petulance, calling Heaven and Daise Empire to witness that this woman 
of the streets had stolen her lover in the early months of 1912. 

In this situation Heald, a Lambeth man by birth and unbroken 
residence, presently took a hand. A taxi-cab was coming empty down 
the lane; with a single 'Oy! ' he stopped it, opened the nearside door, and 



140 



signalled to Armorel with his left eyebrow and his thumb. She accepted 
that invitation as if a servant had summoned her own carriage; walked 
to the taxi with dignity, got inside, and gave one startled, grateful smile 
to Heald, who, with a casual nod, slammed the door. But her difficul- 
ties were not yet over. Mrs Inch, grey and vociferous with rage, was 
standing close to the cab, attached to it by three feet of cord; the cord 
was jammed in the door and at the other end of it the dog was standing 
with its paws on Armorel's lap. While this embroilment was being dis- 
entangled Armorel sat back with her eyes shut. The driver, sliding the 
partition window, asked "Where to, miss?" and she told him "Damien 
Street — the police station." She did not open her eyes till the cab was 
under way; and then she saw that Gian, having swiftly entered by the 
other door, was sitting beside her. 

She leant forward to close the partition window and then she said, 
"Gian, you'd better give me that knife." "What knife?" he asked auto- 
matically, and she answered, "You know." Presently he took out the 
cheap 'Mexican' knife, of a kind which is sold in any American port to 
tourists, and fiddled with it dreamily. "Can I have that, please?" 
Armorel asked. He answered "No" and stuck it into the waist of his 
trousers. "Very well," she said, "the police will find it." 

Gian hunted about the inside of the taxi with his eyes, as cats will 
explore a strange room: now that his body was still again he had fallen 
back into remoteness, he looked like one who has taken a beating in the 
ring. He did release a smile, in that new, strange way of his, as he re- 
peated the word "Police!" but Armorel, closely watching him, could 
not tell what kind of thought had prompted it. 

He said a little while later, quite quietly as if to himself: "You do 
know when to stick yourself in, don't you!" 

She answered with simpHcity: "I heard about you losing your job. 
I knew you'd be after Empire again." 

That seemed to set his thoughts on a new course. "Empire?" He 
sat screwing his fingers in turn, as men do who must struggle to keep 
awake, his knees were drumming together in loose rhythm. "You don't 
know nothing about a bloke like that." 

"Perhaps I don't. Only I know that a bloke like you has got to 
keep away from him." 

"You don't know nothing," he repeated. Then, "You got to do 
something. You can't let a bloke like that do just what he wants." His 

141 



eyes fell shut for a moment, his mouth was working like a stammerer's. 
"No good talkin'!" he said rather wearily. "They all go talkin' and a 
bloke like that do what he wants. They get a bloke what do no man- 
ner of harm and in he go into choke. An that Charlie Empire, they don't 
do nought on him, he just go on the way he likes, no way to stop him. 
I reckon / know a way. Don't make no difference to me, choke or 
nothin' else. They feed you in choke, no matter what. You don't get 
nothin' right but what you pay for it, see." 

"I don't understand," she said. 

The taxi-driver, turning round, asked sourly, "'Ere, was you keep- 
ing this cab for somewhere to live? Damien Street police station, I 
thought you said. Maybe this is the Crystal Palace — my mistake if it 
is." 

Armorel said: "Will you drive on, please! " 

"Where to? Folkstone Pier?" 

"No . . . Contessa Street. Number 14, Contessa Street." 

Gian, squeezed into his corner to leave a foot of empty seat be- 
tween him and her, stared rustically at the upper windows of Beak 
Street, the tailors' dummies, the Brasso plates, the letters of Shaving 
and Chiropody in levitation upon dingy windows, passing him as 
strangely as the common sights of a foreign town. Armorel was saying: 

"You see, I can't help you if you won't tell me anything, if you 
only run away. If you found the course too difficult you could have 
brought the books to me, I could have explained a lot of it. Why didn't 
you tell me about losing your job? I'd have gone and seen your em- 
ployers, or I'd have helped you look for something else. Don't you 
see that's what I want to do!" 

He did not answer at all, he seemed to have retreated into some 
valley of his own. The cab slowed up and she saw they were in Con- 
tessa Street already. The dirty shop front with its jumble of trans- 
parencies slid up and stopped beside the window; a notice hung askew 
in the door said 'Closed'. With his gear in neutral the driver sat still, 
an essay on human perversity written on the back of his head and 
shoulders. Neither of his passengers moved. 

"Gian," she said rather rapidly. "I know you loathe the sight of 
me. Only you know I have tried to do something for you — I did try 
to get you out of prison, I tried to get you a decent chance. There's 
only one thing I want you to do for me." Something was wrong with 
her breathing, so that her words came rather like people crowding out 



142 



of a cinema. "I want you to promise me you won't go anywhere near 
Empire again. I've got to ask you that — otherwise it means I've got to 
tell the police what you were doing this evening — the knife and every- 
thing. You see, I'm not going to let you make yourself a criminal. I 
can't do that. I've told everyone you weren't like that. I can't let it 
happen, it would mean I'd lost everything. Gian, you will promise me 
that? You will, please?" 

"What?" he said as one just waking; and then, surprisingly: "Xo, 
I won't promise nothing. Not to you or no one else." 

"Go on to Maples?" the driver inquired. "Fit you out with beds 
and things there — make the old bus a real comfy home for you." 

Gian stood up and tried to work the unfamiliar door-handle. She 
stretched and held his arm. "I'm not going to leave you alone till you 
promise. I'm coming in to see your father — " 

"You're not," he answered. "You leave me alone! " 

"Driver!" she said briskly, "will you go on, please. Back to 
Damien Street. No — to Belsize Park — Paisley Gardens." 

The driver took his foot off the clutch as if it had stung him. 
"Crike or blee dinmitey!" he said. 

He looked in his mirror once or twice, when he had turned into 
the Waterloo Road. By Belsize Park the clock would have put up 
fifteen bob, or something near, but the girl could stand that, with the 
silk affair she was wearing and a brooch the size of a duck's egg. He was 
hungry. The day was aging, the lights came on as he drove over the 
bridge. Winter coming, he thought, smelling for an instant the river 
air. Was that a knife the chap had been showing the skirt? He didn't 
want that sort of thing, not hanging about all day at the Bailey and 
nothing to show for it. He jerked the car out of a sluggish stream and 
pulled it across a lorry's bows from Aldwych into Drury Lane. 

She said: "I'm going to get you something to eat. I've got a friend 
at Belsize Park, we can be comfortable there." 

"I'm not taking it," he answered. "I'm not taking nothing only 
what I buy myself." 

"Well, you can pay for it if you like." 

"I can't," he said. 

"When did you last have something to eat?" 

"That don't matter." 

The driver's odyssey ended in Seymour Street. He was moving 
behind a bus, the girl called to him to stop and simultaneously he 



M3 



realized that the man was getting out. A fool, he thought, to try it at 
that speed; and sure enough the chap had landed on his bottom in 
the middle of the road, where another taxi only just avoided him. The 
man got up and went to the farther pavement limping; it looked as if 
he had pulled a muscle in his leg; the girl, having shoved a ten-shilling 
note through the partition, jumped out and went after him. Tut it the 
other way round,' the driver thought, turning off into Barnby Street, 
'and it might make sense to me.' 

Aldenham Street, almost empty, was a darkening groove of quiet- 
ness through the muted uproar from the railways; it magnified the 
noise of their feet as they went like yawls racing in a headwind towards 
the gas-holders and the smoke of the Great Northern yards. Without 
the strained ankle Gian would have got away: he had six yards' start, 
and he knew that Susie could not move fast in her stupid, fashionable 
shoes. He was, in fact, still a yard or two ahead when he crossed the 
tramlines in Pancras Road. There she drew level and they limped on 
side by side as in the old days; when he turned into Jubilee Yard she 
followed, and they continued slowly, erratically, towards the canal. 

He stopped in the shadow of the trucks by Newland's Wharf and 
turned to face her. He had his hands stuck under the tabs of his 
braces, in the draining daylight she saw his eyes like bits of glass in 
his grey face. 

"Now!" he said. "Are you going to let me alone?" 

She said inconsequently, "I've got to rest, you must let me rest!" 
There was a heap of stuff beside the truck, deals with sacks laid over 
them, she went and sat there. Gian started to limp away. 

So long as she was moving her nerves had been under control. 
Now she knew that she was more tired than she had ever been before, 
that the pain in her heel was intense, that she had been without food 
for seven or eight hours; and this knowledge, coming suddenly through 
body rather than mind, carried her defences by surprise. She put her 
forehead down on her hands and cried without restraint. 

It felt as if the rush of tears flowed warmly over her misery as 
music does; as music turns defeat into a kind of majesty, weeping 
turned hers. When she looked up again her tiredness and her tears 
brought all the scene into a gentle harmony. Far over, Highgate was 
smudged on a sky which sunset had left still faintly green; here, be- 
yond the canal, arc lamps dropped yellow pools on the grey confusion 
of the Midland yards, the trellised gantries showed like blackened lace 



144 



against the red-shot plumes which locomotives bore into the wilderness 
of Camden Town. In this beauty of shadow and smoke all her sensa- 
tions were absorbed. The near sounds sharpened by evening, harsh 
voices of men at work on the farther bank, a ceaseless rattle of coup- 
lings, were overcast by the soft, conglomerate tide of distant sound 
flowing in from Euston and York Road: the stink of locked water, of 
tannage and yeast, a throbbing pain in her heel, the feel of drying 
sweat and the rough boards cutting into her thighs, by these realities 
of wretchedness she was woven in the scene's reality, enfranchised to its 
mysterious splendour. Her thoughts falling into an easy stride, she 
supposed that Gian had gone: by now he would have limped as far as 
Pancras Road and perhaps be getting on a tram. A movement behind 
startled her, and she heard his voice again. 

He was asking, "What's up, Miss Susie? What are you crying for?" 

There was no simple answer to give; the one she used came with- 
out premeditation: 

"My arm, it's hurting." 

He came close to her and studied her bare arm: the sparse light 
from a high lamp above the loading sheds just showed the marks where 
his fingers had gripped it in Bidault's Place. This had an extraordinary 
effect: he started to tremble violently, so that Armorel felt the vibra- 
tion through the boards on which his foot was resting. He said shakily: 
"I didn't mean to do that, honest I didn't. I never meant to hurt y'. 
I just wanted you out of it, I didn't want you mixed up with me an 
Charlie. I didn't meant to hurt y'— Bible oath!" 

Instinctively she took hold of his wrists and gently pulled him so 
that he had to sit down beside her. She said, holding his hand with both 
of hers, stroking his bony fingers with her thumbs, "You didn't hurt 
me. I know you couldn't ever mean to hurt me, we've been friends too 
much for that." 

In daylight their attitude would have been ludicrous: she in the 
damp and creased organdie dress, he sitting forward as shy young men 
are supposed to have sat in Victorian drawing-rooms, pulling at a dead 
cigarette, letting her keep his hand as if he had disowned it. Clumsily 
stacked, the boards they sat on were ready to topple over: a frivolous 
breeze, loaded with all the foul smells of the wharf, had chased up a 
dirty sheet of newspaper and wrapped it round their legs. 

With his free hand he had started to fiddle about his waist, the 
knife came out and he held it on his knee as if he were fascinated by 

145 



the way its blade caught the light. "There you are!" he said suddenly, 
and he put the knife on her lap. She gave it back. "I don't want it. I 
know it's all right with you." 

Presently he said: "I'll get you back. Back to where you live. 
There'll be one of them taxis, I'll get you on one of them." 

"Not yet," she whispered. "I must rest for a bit. My shoe hurts 
when I walk." 

"Carry y' if y' like." 

*^No, I can walk if you'll give me an arm." 

So they walked for a few yards, she still holding his hand and with 
her other arm supported by his. It was he who stopped. 

"Can't go like this!" he said. 

"Oh, your leg — I forgot. Gian, I'm so sorry! " 

"Leg's all right!" he said; and then, his governed voice smoking 
with excitement: "Listen here! I'm not one of them that mucks about 
with women, that's not my kind of biz, see! I'll get a girl sometime — or 
maybe I won't — a girl what know my kind of life, and then I'll have it 
fixed, church and everything, and then it won't do her no harm." He 
stopped, and she could not help him; she could only murmur, "I hope 
you will." "You don't know how it is," he said with something near to 
anger. "You're pretty, see, you're fumin' pretty. A bloke see a face 
like yourn an he want to do somethink to it, he can't help it no way." 

She turned quickly and moved one hand across to hold his other 
arm. "Gian, you needn't be frightened!" Her voice was steady but 
very small, the words only reached him because her face was so close 
to his. "There's nothing that makes us really different. You won't find 
anyone to care for you better than I can. I don't want any life except 
looking after you." 

Then he carried her back to the pile of deals, kissing her cheeks 
and forehead with a surprising gentleness; and there, holding her care- 
fully so that her head should not touch the dirty sacks as she lay back 
in his arms, he put his tearful eyes against the tears on her cheek, 
his trembling mouth on hers, drinking its warmth and softness as with 
a desert thirst. 

It was towards midnight, and Duffy was reading Havelock Ellis 
in bed, when the door-bell rang in her flat. Supposing vaguely that 
it was Irene, Margaret Wellard, Pamela or Audrey she called, "Come 
in, darling — the door's on the latch." There were voices in the sitting- 

146 



room and then Armorel came into the bedroom, still blinking from the 
force of the electric light, and shut the door behind her: an Armorel 
whom even Duffy had never seen, dishevelled and dirty in such a frock 
and hat as one kept for garden parties in deaneries, exhausted, fright- 
ened, triumphant; making the too slow, too careful gestures of beginners 
in the dramatic schools; wearing the remote, fey smile of those rescued 
from the sea. 

"Duffy," Armorel said, standing with her back to the door and 
holding the handle, "Duffy darling, I just wondered if you could give 
us something to eat, we've had nothing for ever so long — " 

" — But, darling, of course — " 

"—I know it's fearfully late—" 

" — Darling, it isn't! It isn't twelve yet, it's never been so early — " 

Armorel laughed a little, still holding the door; it was the laugh 
of the desperately tired. 

"Listen, Duffy, I've brought a man as well. I know it's awful of 
me—" 

" — Awful? Rellie, how silly you are, I love men — " 

" — No, but, Duffy, listen! It's Gian. I'm going to marry him." 

Duffy went to the corner where a curtain made a hanging-cup- 
board and rummaged for her dressing-gown. With her back to Armorel 
she put it on. She turned, smiling, and said simply, "That's lovely, 
darling, I hope you'll be terribly happy!" and kissed her. Armorel 
opened the door and Duffy went ahead of her into the sitting-room, 
saying over her shoulder, "Will you be a sweet and get the milk — in the 
bathroom — ^you know where I keep the things that go bad — in the basin 
under the telephone." 

Gian stood near the wall in the darkest part of the room, with 
Armorel's attache-case under one arm and a cheap American knife 
in the other hand: distress and terror sculptured in salt. Duffy went 
straight to him, and in an uprush of her kindness kissed his cheek. She 
said: "It's so sweet of you! Coming here — and marrying Rellie and 
everything. You'll love her terribly, she's so awfully sweet." He did not 
try to answer, or even to smile; but when she had coaxed him into a 
chair he mumbled something in which she caught the words 'best I 
can'. He sat bolt upright, while they were rattling about him with cups 
and kettles, and fiddled with the knife, pressing the blade into his palm. 
staring at his dilapidated boots. He smiled just once and the smile. 
instantly passing, left his mouth in the shape of stoic resolution: it was 

147 



such a face as you would commonly see, in the earlier war, on the 
leave platforms at Victoria. When they gave him his coffee he sipped 
it cautiously, and ate very slowly the bread and cheese which he had 
cut into tiny pieces. His eyes, beginning to move furtively about the 
room, rested on the golliwog perched astride the volumes of Taussig, 
on Lemminard's brash cartoons. He seemed to listen alertly to the dis- 
tinctive sounds which came through the open window with the breath 
of exhausted summer: footsteps on the p)avement, a rustle from the 
plane trees, the last tram grinding towards Haverstock Hill. 



148 



PART TWO 



17 



XjoME WHERE AMONG all thesc documents one must discover truth 
and reality.' So Raymond thought, some twenty years afterwards, as he 
was industriously sorting them. 

A suitcase, three feet long, two feet wide and nine inches deep, 
stuffed tight with papers and photographs: to say nothing of three 
or four exercise-books filled with shorthand records of conversations: 
here, surely, would be material enough to represent with fidelity some 
eighteen years in the lives of a few people. But in this bundle of letters 
there is one you wrote yourself; the colour of the ink already gives it 
a certain historic air, although it is dated 1933 — only six years ago; 
and does it recall to actuality the smallest impression of the events 
about which you were writing? The snapshots, records made by a fault- 
less mechanical process with no intrusion of an artist's eyes, seem to 
correspond less closely with what memory has retained than the boldest 
caricature. A child's painting-book, with the inscription 'Tonie from 
her Dad' has got into the collection, among the lawyers' letters and 
the rent receipts. That will bring to anyone but the mentally moribund 
a panorama of his own live memories; but only to Tonie herself, and 
to her very faintly, a portrait of her father's face as he stands by the 
sink and whistles awkwardly, hardly daring to look, while her fat, 
small fingers tear at the envelope's flap. 

Raymond possessed to the verge of lunacy a middle-class reluctance 
to destroy anything which could be remotely described as having 'family 
interest'. He was one much given to puerile hobbies. Having failed as a 
doctor he had taken to writing books (as Gertrude rather unkindly said, 

151 



"Raymond is a man who needs variety; at the age of thirty-five he felt 
he wanted a change of failure") and some residue of nervous impulse 
in the man's make-up had to be absorbed in collecting things — second- 
rate paintings, tram-tickets, anything that came along — and tying them 
into packages with labels. He applied this mania to his own cor- 
respondence; and if anyone asked him for the date of Cousin Edith's 
baptism (such a request as would reach him once, perhaps, in a dozen 
years) he would say immediately: ''Well, yes, now I come to think of 
it, I believe I have got the baptismal certificate — I picked it up with a 
lot of other stuff when I was going through Lawrence Cepinnier's 
papers," and he would tear away to some dreadful glory-hole and be 
back in ten minutes, shrouded with cobwebs, triumphantly waving the 
certificate itself. Or he would murmur, anxiously combing his moustache 
with a middle finger: "Now, there must be some reference in one of 
Gertrude's letters to her mother. Or, wait! — Lawrence would have 
given some sort of donation at the time, or at least a tip to the verger. 
I know I've got some old account books of Lawrence's . . ." It was 
a pleasure, then, for this harmless creature when Michael Kinfowell, 
during his second Long Vacation from Oriel, went out to Finchley to 
visit him. He had liked Michael as a child, when, for reasons beyond 
casual benevolence, he had visited him at his preparatory school and 
taken him to lunch at Cartacre's; he had watched the boy's development 
with something like a botanist's interest; and now that the thinness of 
Michael's face had assumed a patrician shape, the perplexity of the 
brows changed to a hesitant intelligence, the extreme shyness to a 
sensitivity of manners, he was more than flattered that the youth 
should find him of any interest or value. "Of course, my dear fellow, 
rout about as much as you like! Or take the stuff away, anything that 
interests you — only I should be grateful if you'd keep things in the 
proper bundles. Now look, most of Tonic's mother's letters are in this 
one with the blue tape . . ." 

It was Michael who had come across the painting-book, on a lonely 
visit to Weald Street. The tenants of i6a, full of kindness, had let him 
walk about the house; in the tiny attic room which had once been 
Tonic's bedroom he had found the book sticking out from behind an 
old packing-case, and they had gladly allowed him to take it away. He 
was a young man with the sentimental kind of curiosity which is some- 
times found in students of history: he liked browsing among old letters, 
and he liked to see the places where things had happened, his father's 
school at Bedford, Balkan villages which his parents had known, the 



152 



hospital courtyard which his mother had so often described in telhng 
him of his early illness. Perhaps he suffered a little from a malady of 
his time; for the years of his growing had been those when a boy with 
eyes in his mind could look forward only into darkness and would 
often seek refuge, as the old do, in retrospection. With a certain melan- 
choly (which you saw in features increasingly like his mother's) he 
went bicycling in a part of Sussex where with his mother and step- 
father he had once spent a holiday full of small delights and of linger- 
ing contentment. On a winter morning he idled in Paddington Station, 
hoping to recover in the tangle of movement and odour, in the raw 
and thunderous air, the ecstasy of his first return from school. That 
hope was ill-founded: the chords were all there but the tune did not 
sound the same. And he was no more successful when he tried, visiting 
the scenes of remoter memories, to find in them the cause of shapeless 
fears and anxieties which had troubled him in earliest childhood. The 
tessellated hall where a man in uniform had said, "Mr Kinfowell is 
waiting in the car outside. Master Michael"; the long avenue with the 
wellingtonias at Easterhatch: he recognized these places, when chance 
and fancy combined to lead him there, as if they had first come into his 
mind through reading rather than through sight and touch. He said in 
a letter: "No, my dear, I am not so stupid as to think that we can re- 
trace our steps. I do not really expect to feel again the hideous terrors 
of my first term at school by smelling chalk and ink and hearing the 
clanging of 'Old Joe's Gong'. Neither do I suppose that if I saw my 
mother coming to me across a newly-mown lawn, wearing the curious 
hat and the low-waisted dress of the earlier 'twenties, I should be over- 
come by a tide of mysterious sorrow and fall sobbing into her arms. 
Just as I know that these sensations were real I know that they are 
lost, hke the bouquet of those wines which will not travel. But with 
the world as it is at present we have to face the fact that our time may 
be a short one. Things of which there is little are precious. I am greedy, 
I want to take everything that has come to me and wrap it securely 
in a watertight parcel, I don't want to lose one jot of past experience 
which can any way be got at, mine or yours . . ." 

So in that characteristically impulsive visit which he paid to Ray- 
mond it was the past they talked of. They understood it differently: to 
Raymond, as far as anyone could tell, the past was a list of dates, of 
births, deaths and marriages; to Michael, a fabric of sensations, here 
broken, here worn, here so thickly covered with grease and dust that 
the pattern could not be seen. Yet for Raymond there was pleasure 



153 



enough in showing off the well-trimmed garden of his recollections, with 
its paths turning and intersecting, even to a visitor who kept stopping 
to smell the flowers. A generation apart, the two men found that their 
kinds of reserve were complementary. They liked each other very 
well. 

"Of course all this district has changed completely in the last few 
years," Raymond said sadly. "Down that way we used to get into open 
country almost at once, then over the playing-fields towards Mill Hill. 
We used to picnic over there — you felt you were miles out in the 
country. However, I mustn't bore you." That was a phrase he put in 
automatically after every sentence or two, as nervous tennis players 
say 'Sorry' at the end of every rally. He pushed up his horn-rimmed 
spectacles and looked curiously at Michael's forehead, as if he hoped 
to see a name-tab there. "I sometimes think of moving, but J hate the 
idea of watching my desk being taken to bits and flung about by the 
removal men. They'd be bound to lose something. And it would feel 
like running away — after all, I was here before all these damned 
arterial roads and things, I don't see why Vve got to clear out . . . 
Now, look here, you said you'd like to see the church where Tonie's 
mother was married. You'd like to walk? — it's no distance — one wastes 
petrol horribly on short runs. You may find it a trifle depressing — one 
feels that the builders wanted the Deity to have a place for spending 
the week-end more or less incognito." 

"I suppose it feels to you as if the wedding happened yesterday?" 
Michael said as they went up the hill. 

"No, I wouldn't say that. I'm not old enough to think of eighteen 
years as nothing at all. No, I really remember very little about it, ex- 
cept that it was hell. I mean, all weddings are hell, don't you think? 
You find women powdering themselves in your study and looking at 
your books. Oh, yes," Raymond said (they were opposite the unlovely 
church now), "I do remember one thing, I remember a photographer 
falling over, just where we're standing now. Forgot he was just in front 
of the kerb. Smashed his camera and hurt himself — fellow from the 
Press. I did enjoy that just a bit." 

With that small stimulus the rusty wheels of his mind began to 
turn. 

"Yes, she went through it very well. Of course you'd expect that 
— if anyone faints in the vestry these days it's the man who's giving 
the girl away. Hideous dress. She wanted to wear powder-blue, but 
then she was afraid the bridegroom would think that wasn't absolutely 

IS4 



correct. I never knew a girl who bothered so much about what the 
bridegroom might think." 

Michael said: "I suppose at that age she looked very much as 
Tonie does now, except for being fair?" 

"Well, I never know what people look like. She was always sup- 
posed to be the image of her great-grandmother. Of course, so is Tonie 
supposed to be. And of course you can see it — even I can see it." 

He leant back with his buttocks on the handle of his umbrella, 
winded by such a burst of cerebration. He was in the middle of the 
road and a laundry-van, hooting petulantly, had to graze the kerb to 
get past him ; he stared after it, stroking the rather long grey hair above 
his ear, with the distant, disapproving glance which sometimes caused 
old maids to mistake him for a man of intellect. Michael waited politely. 
The sun had come out again, up here the quick North London air stir- 
ring the captive trees gave a certain pleasantness to the gauche sub- 
urban street. 

"You know, I've often pictured it," Michael said, "from my 
mother's description. It's interesting to see how far one's picture 
matches the reality." He smiled, and this was exactly his father's smile, 
which charmed without intention, the phosphorescence of rippling 
thoughts. "It's a curious period to contemplate, don't you think, the 
time when you were alive and knew nothing about it." 

"Yes, I should think so." 

Only Raymond's ears were listening: his mind would not slide 
over to a new subject as quickly as that, it was working now like a 
terrier at a hole where a rabbit has disappeared. "The eyes were 
wrong," he said abruptly. "I looked at her in the vestry — they weren't 
Dorothea Truggett's eyes at all, people said they were, but they weren't. 
The mouth was Dorothea's. Well, at least, that's how I saw it then." 
He got out a cigarette and put it fussily into a holder. "She didn't 
want to be married in a church at all, the one thing she had from her 
mother was a perfect abhorrence of all that sort of thing. Well, I 
mustn't bore you. But there again, the important thing was to make 
her husband feel he was getting a proper show, that's how it looked 
to her. She wasn't going to have any hole-and-corner business. She kept 
on saying that — ^pages and pages of instructions she sent me. And, oh 
my God, that man from the caterer's, he treated me like a sort of deck- 
hand. Well, I suppose it went off all right — people said it did, only 
of course people always say that. Absolute hell, I thought it was." 

Michael would have liked to go inside the church, but Raymond 



155 



evidently did not want to: swinging his umbrella with the air of a 
Loamshire squire on a stroll through his estate, the senile pussy-cat had 
started walking back towards Regents Park Road. 

"Trying to remember the name,", he said, "Uncle Percy or Uncle 
Albert, some name like that — some relation of the bridegroom he must 
have been. Of course really it's quite a long time ago, all sorts of things 
have happened since then, the General Strike — that was 'twenty-six, 
of course, quite put the wind up me — and then this German nonsense 
starting all over again. Yes, Percy, I think it was. Wanted me to turn 
my garden into a sort of tea place, he said I could make a pile of 
money that way. He kept showing me how I could knock out a new 
passage through the drawing-room. I do wish people would recognize 
a snob when they see one, it makes it all so embarrassing. I must look 
up the name — I expect I had to send him some money at one time or 
another. Percy or Albert, I'm not quite sure which." 

Of course, Raymond was thinking, there were trams then, not 
these damned trolley-buses. The unwieldy trams had possessed some 
kind of absurd, archaic dignity, he thought, forgetting how bitterly he 
had abused them when they came. The weather, he fancied, had been 
much as it was now, perhaps a little colder, he couldn't remember, he 
would have to turn up his weather diary for 1920. Somehow umbrellas 
had come into it; somewhere — at the church? at the house? — he had 
sheltered Armorel with his own umbrella, and she had said with her 
touching smile, "Cousin Raymond, you are so terribly sweet!" But why 
umbrellas at all? Surely the reception had been mostly in the garden. 
What was it that fellow had said about the weather, that fellow who 
had married Christine Cepinnier — ^Liske, Everard Liske — what was it 
he'd said? He was odd, that fellow, you could never quite understand 
what he said, or rather why he had said it: taken at its face value it 
never seemed to have been worth saying. Well, there had certainly been 
umbrellas up, so there must have been some rain. Yes, now he came 
to think of it, rooting about the corners of his dim and dusty little 
mind, he remembered there being some rain. 

Yes, there had been rain, and it did not surprise James Ardree at 
all. "I said to my old lady," he told the porter at Finchley Station, 
" — she couldn't come, seeing there's the kids and the business and 
everything — I said to her before I left home, 'You mark what I say,' 
I said, 'there'll be rain. Always rains at weddings,' I said. Now, see 
here, how far to this St Luke's Church? If it's got to be a cab, I'll take 

156 



a cab. It comes just the same to me — I can pay for a cab. Only there's 
no sense in laying out brass if the church is half a mile up street, is 
there now! Brass is brass, whether you've got it or whether you've not." 

The lady and gentleman over there, the porter said, were going to 
St Luke's as well: it was a mile or so, and they were waiting for a cab. 

If Everard was already miserable, if he loathed the sad, suburban 
station and the rain dripping on him from the edge of its roof, if he 
thought it was madness to take his wife in her present state on such 
an expedition as this, no word or glance betrayed it. "Rellie is going to 
marry a policeman-basher," Christine had informed him over the toast- 
rack. "So original. So possibilitous." "Dear me!" Everard had said, 
making a note to get Mappin and Webb's catalogue. And when she 
showed him a few days later the dress she had bought "for Arthur 
Augustus and me to wear at the wedding" he had only remarked, with 
the faintly vibrating voice of one who hears that he is now to be drawn 
and quartered as well as hanged: "You really think, dear, that Dr 
Heugh will approve of this?" 

"But, sweetie, what does poor Heughie know about girls' frocks!" 

So here he stood in his brown week-end suit, dignified, patient, 
gravely affable, holding his faultless umbrella over Christine and carry- 
ing in his other hand the bag with all the trifles Christine had supposed 
an expectant mother might need in Finchley, a brush and comb and 
various medicines, a novel and a thermos, a Bradshaw and a pair of 
goloshes. He wore his kid gloves, not the wash-leather ones, which 
might have been too showy, and to make sure of hurting no one's feel- 
ings he had substituted a simple brown for his Old Carthusian tie. 
Everard Liske differed from other men by being perfect. He never 
raised his voice, he had never said anything to wound, nothing in his 
manner or dress was even faintly ostentatious, nothing stuck out. He 
was said to have married Christine because she had the same unobtru- 
siveness as his socks and his Bayswater flat: at the time, no element in 
Christine's composition had stuck out either, and her voice, if a little 
high in pitch, was never loud. 

"Not a taxi on the horizon," Christine said good-naturedly. "So 
soothing. So rural." 

But a horse-cab presently arrived, and with gentle efficiency Ever- 
ard put her in and took his place beside her. A porter appeared at the 
other window. 

"Can you take another gentleman — going the same way? Save you 
half the fare." 



157 



The long, brick-and-tile face of James Ardree, mounted between a 
bowler hat and a vast chrysanthemum, and now rising like an operatic 
sun above the porter's shoulder, took the question outside the field of 
debate. "A little one like me," James said, opening the door and folding 
and then unfolding his long, unwieldy, funereal body, "you won't hardly 
notice. Now was that the lady's toe, or yours, mister?" He lowered 
himself carefully into the narrow space which the couple had left be- 
tween them and offered Everard a cigar. 

"Perhaps we'd be more comfortable," Everard suggested, "if one 
of us sat the other side." 

"Aa, I'm right enough where I am now. As snug as a bug in a 
rug." He looked from one to the other with a wealth of friendship. "Aa, 
she's ploomp, I will say. But I like a lass to be ploomp. The name's Mr 
Ardree. Right pleased to know you." 

"Liske. My wife. Atrocious weather," Everard said. 

Christine said, "So kind!" 

The cab with its pleasantly bouncing gait, its smell of forgotten 
comforts, went creaking down the main road. 

"They tell me," James said, sitting forward with one large, com- 
radely hand on Everard's knee, the other on Christine's, "that my 
brother Simon's boy has got himself a juicy piece — a real slice of under- 
cut. Though whether there's any brass in contract Simon don't seem 
to know. Well, Simon, you see, he's got no head for business, never 
did have nor never will. Going sailoring like he did — you tell me, 
Where's the brass in sailoring? Now see here, there's brass all round, 
waiting for someone to come and pick it up with a shovel, anyone 
that's got any eyes. Take this road. Wants widening — there isn't a road 
that doesn't. You start people talking about 'the Finchley bottleneck' — 
no matter whether it is or it isn't — then you go to that shop at the 
corner, buy a packet of fags, talk about the weather, give the old girl 
the tale. 'They tell me they're going to widen along here — spoil your 
front a bit, I dare say.' That goes all along those houses. Next thing 
you find a chap on the peep-see for a block of houses he can make into 
maisonettes — you know, a few feet of breeze-blocks and a length of 
bell-wire. I'm not saying you'd be in it yourself, mind! You don't 
want to be laying out brass, that's what the Good Lord made the mugs 
for. Where you come in is on the rake-off." 

"Ah, yes." 

"It's like this, see, you go to some builder chap, what you know 
has got a dud lot of breeze-blocks, been sold him by another chap you 

iS8 



know. 'Now see here, Dick,' you say, 'I wouldn't wonder but what I 
know a chap what'd take those blocks off your hands. Mind you, the 
brass won't be a masterpiece,' you say. See?" 

The cab turned into Mountfield Road, Mr Ardree steadied him- 
self with his right hand against the window and with his left re-lit his 
cigar. "Now what would your line of business be?" he asked. "Some- 
thing high-class, I dare say. Wines and spirits?" 

"Well, as a matter of fact, I'm a member of the Stock Exchange," 
Everard confessed. 

"Right!" said Mr Ardree, pouncing. "And what's the answer to 
that? The answer is 'Get out! Cut clean away!' Let those lads go their 
own way, any way they like, but as far as you're concerned they've 
got the push-off, see?" He turned to wave his cigar under Christine's 
nose. "Now I ask you, Mrs Licks, what do those lads do for your 
hubby? Strangle him! Strangle him into a corpse with their rules and 
fads and fancies: no publicity, no competition — what I call competi- 
tion — no enterprise! 'Cut it out!' That's what you want to say to 
your hubby, 'Hubby/ you want to say, 'cut 'em adrift!' Now I know 
a chap in Stockport, cousin of a friend, runs an office all on his own — 
I'll give you the address, I've got it on me somewhere — nothing very 
big, no swank about it, you could look in there yourself and you might 
say, 'Aa, strike me, not much brass finding its way in here, not that I 
can see!'- — and, Mrs Licks, do you know, old Dave Elleridge — that's 
the chap I'm telling you about, the chap that runs that little business — 
well, I say 'little' business — " 

"I think this must be the church," Everard said. 

The Kinfowells had arrived early in their Daimler and Flock had 
put them well forward on the left-hand side. Much as she disliked this 
prominence, Elizabeth realized that he was right: to place Henry 
farther back would be to have the vessel down by the stern. Physically 
Henry was not a large man, but one thought of him as large, just as a 
bare, solitary hill standing against a town appears to be a mountain: 
at fifty-one he was, indeed, mountainous in everything but size, his 
handsome, Ayrshire face had the look of erosion, his thick, grey-shot 
hair lay as if fastened in its shape by the steady drive of coastal gales. 
In the dark suit which he wore for his less important boards he sat very 
straight with his hands folded on his knees, apparently unaware of the 
barrage of curious glances from the other side of the church. His head 
never moved, only his quiet eyes turned slowly, appraisingly, from the 
pulpit to the choir-stalls, to the lectern, and back to where, in the fore- 



159 



most pew, the bridegroom sat with his wrists on his spread knees, 
exactly as a boxer sits in his corner of the ring. Yes, a prize-fighter, 
EHzabeth thought; a small-time bruiser stuffed into his Sunday serge 
to be, shown for threepence at a charity fete; but when he turned a 
little, so that she saw his profile, pale with fright and resolution, her 
feeling turned to pity and immediately to a colour against which pity 
faded. In Serbia she had ceased to pity soldiers, whose acceptance of 
their day made that emotion seem anaemic and shrill: was it a trick 
of light in this baldly daylit building, a twist of circumstance, a mere 
aftertaste of old associations which showed her in Gian's face some- 
thing she had watched so long in theirs? She turned her eyes away, as 
one does from prisoners, to glance covertly at the dozen of his friends 
who were packed protectively in the two pews behind him. These, while 
the people behind her leant over each other to whisper and even to 
laugh, were as dumb as children awaiting punishment, they only fiddled 
nervously with service sheets, coughed into their handkerchiefs, shot 
furtive glances across the aisle. The stout, foreign-looking woman must 
be Gian's mother, and his father presumably was the man on her right, 
the one who looked as if he expected a keeper to get up in the pulpit 
and throw him bird-seed, while the two men on Mrs Ardree's other side 
were not to be identified. The dark girl behind, with her luxuriant dis- 
play of charms, would be a sister of Gian's; you could tell from her 
facial likeness to the mother; and the slack-mouthed, hungry-eyed 
youth whom one instinctively connected with the motorcycle trade was 
probably this girl's husband. But who could the strange creature at the 
end be, the deformed woman or child who seemed to be quite alone and 
whose repellent mouth Elizabeth was forced to look at again and again? 

In a whisper that cut through the tide of whispering like rifle 
fire Flock was giving his last instructions to the bridegroom: 

"Now mind, there's not a bit of need to get the sweatin' horrors. 
You don't do nothing, nothink at all, except stand up alongside Miss 
Spinyer and say what the parson tells y'. You don't want to worry 
about the ring, neither. Young Hubbitt get it off me when the time 
comes, an' you get it off young Hubbitt, get me. Cautionary word is 
said by Miss Spinyer, 'and thereto I give thee my tooth.' On the word 
'tooth' you catch her by the left hand — left hand, mind — cant the left 
arm to an angle of forty-five degrees, insert ring on fourth finger of the 
left hand and ram home with easy downward movement of forefinger 
and thumb, in this manner." The whisper rose to gale force. "Oyl — ^you 

i6o 



perishin' Toms, don't stand there gapin' an' gauspin' up round this end 
— what'd you think Miss Spinyer pay your fare for? Whole lot o' new 
customers down the other end, backers of Miss Susie's by the looks 
on 'em, off you go, m'lad, an' chivvy 'em in alongside the rest of the 
gentry!" 

A fresh stir behind, where the frantic Ormison was trying to sepa- 
rate James Ardree from the Liskes, made Elizabeth turn round. The 
Cepinnier wing was filling up, with the kind of people who belong to 
County Cricket Weeks and who seem slightly out of drawing in church. 
Some few were local. A heavy nucleus, in solid clothes which appeared 
to have been too casually shared out among them, could be recognized 
as members of what Gertrude always termed the Kilburn and Crickle- 
wood Branch Line: with all their oddities of feature they retained in 
common a faintly insolent shyness, and you could not mistake the Trug- 
gett brows and chin. Joined with this group, but clearly alien, a vigor- 
ously tailored man of horse-dealing aspect was querulously talking to a 
ripened blonde in the height of pre-war fashion with a very small, hard 
mouth and a chicken's darting eyes: in her, for one instant and never 
again, Elizabeth caught some indefinable resemblance to Armorel. Her 
glance went on at once to the end of that pew, where a hat like a choco- 
late box, devoutly inclined upon an ivory prayer-book, proved to be 
the outworks of Duffy Elwin in her ceremonial trim. Of half a hundred 
people now in the church only one seemed to regard it as a place of 
sanctity: far back on the Ardree side she had a glimpse of Trevon Grist 
in his seedy overcoat, kneeling with the top of his tousled head against 
the book-rest, his body locked in a deathlike stillness except when his 
hands, with the slight, feverish movement of worshippers at Latin 
shrines, made the sign of the cross. 

Seeing Elizabeth, Duffy raised the prayer-book to screen one side 
of her mouth and discreetly sent a message with her lips and eyes; by 
what is known as intuition Elizabeth could read it almost word by 
word: "My dear, you won't believe what happened — a hellish ladder, 
just as I was starting, and the ones I've got on now aren't even a 
pair." Elizabeth sent back a smile of sympathy and Duffy's face relaxed 
into the serenity of devotion. Soon the organ started and the choir 
wheeled in. 

How many weddings, Elizabeth wondered, in the last tw^elve 
months: Olivia Bairdley, the Pinthorpe girl, Hilda Nicholedd's niece . . . 
the recurring carnival of bobbing and whispering pews, The Voice that 

i6i 



Breathed o'er Eden, Henry sitting beside her as he sat now, collected, 
amiable, competent, ready to show his Maker and the bridegroom's 
mother exactly the politeness that each seemed to require. Fashion, she 
thought, had buried this drama beneath the silt of its vulgarities, the 
very words of the rite were so worn with use that they had lost for her 
their intrinsic nobility. She could escape by setting her mind adrift in 
the familiar streams, Michael's whimsied charm, Gordon's set face as 
she had told him the news, the old, threadbare days at Dinstead Fen; 
but this actuality which she had helped to make forbade so easy a 
refuge. She shut her eyes, but the florid perfumes of the women behind 
were still wrapped round her, the banal words of the hymn which Henry 
was gravely singing in a key of his own were like the jolting of a train 
when you are trying to thread a needle. In a curious fashion she was 
frightened; and she was on the point of doing what she had never done 
before, of saying, "Henry, I don't feel well, please take me out!" when 
a flutter behind told her that the curtain was up. 

Looking past Henry's nose she saw Ra)miond's pseudo-distin- 
guished head, with the mildly apologetic face which made her think, 
What, hath this thing appeared again tonight? But one's eyes remained 
on him no longer than on the horses drawing a royal coach: she looked 
at Armorel and Raymond ceased to exist. 

Armorel was more than the centre-piece of this motley gathering, 
more than its occasion. As she advanced, very slowly, very erect, the 
climate changed: as if, in a shop cluttered with bric-a-brac, you moved 
some piece away from the window and the daylight washing in to a 
far corner revealed a Rembrandt head. She did not smile; a smile would 
have weakened her sublimity; she only let her eyes and mouth repose, 
so that her beauty could lie still in them. Just then it was not a woman's 
face we saw, though the flow of her walk in the long dress was an 
empyrean of womanhood: no, this face was not man's or woman's, and 
pallor had bleached its loveliness; it was one shared by both parts of 
the human breed, getting its dignity from age and endurance, its power 
from quietness, its genius from being alone. I know that when I looked 
at it that afternoon I had to restrain tears; tears such as transmute and 
glorify the day. Gian, waiting for her, had his feet apart, his big hands 
hanging like captive balloons in the void, his eyes on the floor. But 
when she came near and he looked at her his face showed nothing which 
the understanding could regard with contempt. Armorel took his stiff 
arm like one long used to that support, the organ stopped and a little, 

162 



aging man said with peculiar gentleness, "Dearly beloved, we are 
gathered together here in the sight of God . . ." 

"Of course she was my closest chum at Hilda Abbess's," Daphne 
Steaben said to Everard, standing in the French window of Raymond's 
drawing-room. 

"Oh, really?" Everard said. He had felt that his business experi- 
ence was not varied enough to make him a congenial partner for James 
Ardree, and seeing this girl standing all alone he had excused himself 
and fetched her a sausage-roll. "That must be a delightful school," he 
said. 

"It's a quite perfect school," Miss Steaben told him, "but it has 
no soul. It was useless for Armorel and me. I don't know if you're an 
esoteric?" 

"Well, no, I'm a stockbroker, actually." 

Miss Steaben, looking distantly at a cabinet full of Raymond's 
dreadful china, took hold of Everard's sleeve. "You know," she said, 
"it's a very curious thing, but I feel that I've been through all this 
before. A long, long time ago. Do you ever get such a feeling as that?" 

"Well, actually, I don't think I do." 

"When I was quite small Daddy took us all to Egypt for a holi- 
day. It was utterly shattering — you know, modern Egypt has no soul. 
But a most extraordinary thing happened to me as we went round the 
Amen Temple at Karnak. The dragoman was being most awfully rude 
and repulsive, so I wandered away from the others, and I suddenly came 
to a little sort of bas-relief of an ancient Egyptian queen. I mean, a 
very young queen, but in ancient Egyptian times. Of course I'd never 
been anywhere near this place before. And do you know, I suddenly 
had an awfully strange feeling in my head, like very wonderful music, 
and I suddenly realized perfectly well that I knew who that queen was. 
Who do you think?''' 

"Well, I haven't done a fearful lot in the way of travelling, 
actually — " 

"Me!" 

Everard scanned the sea of heads all round them. Christine was 
nowhere in sight. 

"Would you care for another sausage-roll?" he asked. 

"Are you all all right?" Raymond inquired vaguely, squeezing his 
way into the garden. He realized now that he should have taken the 

163 



King Edward hall; as usual he had miscalculated the number who 
would accept the invitation, and Mr Gigg from the caterers had just 
told him that it was going to be a damn close thing with the pastries. 
Well, it wasn't his fault that the rain had started when everything had 
been set up in the garden, so that all the tables and things had had to 
be carried inside; or that the sky had cleared just as the guests were 
arriving and that Gigg in scrupulous observance of the contract had 
made his almost mutinous squad take everything outside again, bump- 
ing into people and getting the women's dresses caught in the hinges 
of folding chairs. Another hour or so, he thought, switching his be- 
draggled smile to right and left, and this auto-da-fe would all be over. 
It was going all right, he supposed, everyone seemed to be jabbering or 
eating or blowing the filthy smoke of Turkish cigarettes about, and that 
seemed to be, God save us all, what people liked doing. He caught sight 
of Christine talking to Captain Desterin. (What classic impudence of 
Arthur Cepinnier's wife cadging an invitation for that mountebank!) 

"Are you all right, my dear? What have you done with what's-his- 
name, that man you married last year?" 

"Oh, I left Everard having a glorious run with a harpy in green. 
I do think husbands ought to be let off the lead sometimes, don't you? 
I mean, when one is expecting, I think one's husband needs ever so many 
girls. So re-invigorating." 

Raymond hurried on towards the Dutch garden, where Gigg and 
Flock had fallen out of sympathy about the placing of deck chairs. 
("What I want to know is, who's got the contract on this wedding, 
you or me?" "Well, you, by the looks on it. Setting all them chairs 
where the ladies and gents get the sun come smack in their perishin' 
eyes — why, a lance-corporal'd have more bloody sense than that!") 
Irene Cepinnier was calling after him, "Cousin Raymond, I do want 
a Httle talk with you!" and he steered over to the right, hoping that the 
laburnums would hide him; but here was Charybdis, the twin Martello 
towers of the stern belonging to that unbelievable person in the bowler 
hat who had already buttonholed him for several minutes to talk some 
gibberish about tea-gardens and who was now nudging the tiresomely 
successful-looking Scottish creature right back on to a bed of prize- 
winning dahlias. He sheered off to the left, but James had spotted him. 
"This gentleman here," James said to Henry Kinfowell, "will bear out 
what I say." "Back in one moment!" Raymond called, with a smile 
like a bicycle lamp short of oil, and almost ran into the arms of Mr 

164 



Gigg, who wished to know whether this particular pestilential wedding 
was being done by Portwood Brothers of Squire's Lane or had it by 
any chance been turned over to the War Office. 

"Now you can take my advice or you can leave it," James con- 
tinued, "but the pay-as-you-ride class of business has come to stay. 
You take typewriters. I get to hear of a young lass that wants a type- 
writer — earning ten half-cracks a week, we'll say, wants to make a bit 
of brass in her spare time, fair enough. Well now, I don't try to sell 
her a typewriter. And why? Because I know she can't afford to buy a 
typewriter. So what do I do? I give her a typewriter. I get it off Leary's 
the wholesale people, down by central station — decent stuff, mind: no 
use taking on a charge for what the lass is going to make into tinker's 
trash before you get it back off her: Court Kensington, that sort of 
job, stand up to a bit of wear — I get this job on quarterly account and 
put it on one of George Hinchliffe's vans (he won't charge nothing, see- 
ing how I put a bit of business in his way, come one week, come the 
next). I go the front door — the jront door, mind — and I say 'Miss 
Pratt?' I say, 'I hear that you been wanting a typewriter. My name's 
Mr James Ardree, here you are, it's yours, sign on the bottom and 
nothing to pay — nothing — whatever — to pay till Friday three weeks.' 
So what happens next?" 

"So you think the Court Kensington a good machine?" Henry 
interrupted. 

"Good? Listen: you take a word of advice from me — Mr Ardree, 
the name is — and don't you touch that job with the mucky end of a 
sewage pole. It'll last, mind — it'll last for ever. But what's the good of 
it lasting if it won't type! Listen: it's the works is just a misery. Speak- 
ing mechanically, it's muck, plain honest muck like father makes it." 

"I'm interested," Henry said agreeably, "because one of my com- 
panies manufactures that machine." 

"Ah, then listen, and I'll tell you right now what you've got to 
do to make a mucky machine of that grading fetch you in a decent 
bit of brass." 

A tow-haired boy bobbed up between them. " 'Ere, gimme that 
glass — get y' a refill — gimme yours too, may as well, all goes on the 
boss's bill." 

There were really too many helpers. From a sound position be- 
tween the serving tables and the rockery Flock had got his team organ- 
ized, and with all the advantages of youth and amateur keenness on 

I6S 



their side they were cutting out the opposition. "William — over there!" 
Gigg would bark. "Whole dozen of 'em — standin' there starvin'!" but 
before the puffy old waiter was half the distance across the lawn a 
brace of boys slipped by Flock had reached the group with three assort- 
ments of sandwiches. "You — ^Jordan — " shouted Gigg, apoplectic with 
frustration, "get hold of this tray, sharp now!" "On it, boy!" spat 
Flock, seizing Toms by the collar, flicking him round and launching 
him like a catapult. "You, Slimey — catch! — that way — ole basket by 
the hollyhocks, top her up! " House and garden seemed to be awash with 
haggard, wrathful waiters and tearing, twisting boys, you were battered 
and stunned with service. Before you had drained your glass a grubby 
fist snatched it away and in half a minute it was back refilled. A plate 
was plunged between your stomach and the woman you were talking 
to; you hesitated, a remorseless voice said, "Goo on — last two!" and 
one eclair was thrust into your hand, one into hers. You left your chair 
to walk across to the lily-pond and the chair followed you, as you knew 
when its sharp edge was bumped against your thighs. "There y'are, 
mister — nothing to pay — might as well rest y'r arse!" The Fidgley 
brothers, competing in the issue of cakes, had got out of hand and 
were running like madmen from group to group, bellowing their scores. 
When Everard put a cigarette in his mouth the elder Fidgley tore at 
him with a lighted match, the younger leapt and blew it out, trans- 
ferred the cigarette from Everard's mouth to his own and lit it, cried 
"Got y' skinned, cock!" to his rival and put it back. "Yes, friends of 
my sister-in-law's, I imagine," Everard said to Miss Steaben with a 
trace of awkwardness. Beyond the shrubbery Maria Ardree, nervously 
smiling, damp with sweat, shedding occasionally a few insistent tears, 
rinsed glass after glass in a bath of soapy water while Duffy dried them. 

Irene succeeded in separating old Frederick Hutchinson from a 
group of the Kilburn-and-Cricklewoods and got him pinned against 
the wall of the summer-house, with Roger Desterin supporting her. 

"I've not had one word with Raymond," she said. "Nonsense! — 
he's not a bit too busy, he's not doing anything except wander about 
and beam at people who don't know from Adam who he is. Of course 
he's avoiding me — I'm not a fool! And I can't say I wonder at it 
either, after the hand he's had in this. Still, it's not him I'm blaming, 
it's Edith." 

"Ah, poor Edith!" 

"Poor Edith? Poor smug!" Her voice settled to the squeezed mo- 

i66 



notony of a phonograph recording. "I've written to that woman time 
and time again, I'm in a nice house here, I told her, there's a room 
Armorel can have to herself any time she likes to come. But, oh no! 
Not a bit of it! Armorel can't stay with her own mother because 
Armorel's having a proper Christian upbringing and her mother's a 
wicked woman! Armorel must stay with her good, kind. Christian, 
charitable aunt Edie, and learn to be a nice, respectable, high-class 
Christian girl! If Armorel started seeing her own mother it would make 
her all nasty and low-class — oh, yes, of course it would! And what 
happens? The first thing that Armorel does is to go and marry a van- 
boy off the corner of the street!" 

Frederick brought a yawn to still birth. "But you know, Mrs, 
Cepinnier, your husband's side of the family do make rather unex- 
pected alliances now and again." 

"That's not the point!" Desterin said sharply. "The point is, Irene 
had got every right to be consulted. The girl's own mother — it's a 
damned insult, if you ask me. I'm not a snob, mind you — a snob's just 
what I can't stick, saw too many of 'em in the war. (No, blast you, 
I've told you nine times already / do not want any coffee!) But when 
it comes to a thing like marriage, there are limits." 

"In what way?" Frederick inquired. 

"And what would her father have said?" Irene pursued. "That's a 
thing I'd like to know!" 

Frederick's gravestone face fell into a new posture of courteous 
distress: each moment seemed to intensify the happiness of his day. 
"One has never been certain about Arthur's prejudices," he said 
thoughtfully. "I don't feel that I know the bridegroom, I've only had 
about three words with him. Is he at all interested in motor-racing, do 
you know?" 

Christine, twirling her long gloves, came swaying over the straw- 
berry-beds. "Isn't Cousin Frederick a sweet!" she piped to Roger. "So 
oldy-worldy. Cousin Freddie, don't you think it's awful for Mums, 
seeing the last little chick fluttering away from the nest! Only of course 
the nest rather fluttered away first. I've been seeing all Rellie's new 
relations. So intriguing. The sister's awfully pretty, we've been talking 
baby for hours. She knows all about weaning, and keeping hubby inter- 
ested, and abortion and everything. Oh, and Roger would simply love 
the sister's husband, he makes money on motorcycle tracks, as well as 
all sorts of things. Rellie looked awfully sweet, didn't she!" 

167 



"From where that man put me in the church I could hardly see 
her," Irene said. ''I was thinking she might come and talk to me." 

"The least she could do!" Desterin agreed. 

Christine spread across the three of them her ready-made and 
harmless smile. "I expect Aunt Edie's told her all the essentials," she 
said consolingly. She turned to Frederick. "Don't you think Mums 
looks angelic in that little frock! So chic," she said, "so chaste," and 
wandered amiably away. 

"Such lovely flowers!" everyone was saying, avoiding — except in 
whispers — the most obvious and least comfortable topic. "How nice 
that the rain stopped just when it did! All these pretty frocks, and the 
waiters and everything — it gives you a pre-war feeling, you can almost 
believe that the old times are back." "Such a lovely afternoon, after 
all! Really we might be back in August," people said. But the breeze 
blowing across the lawn, a little salty to the nostrils, made older women 
glad they had kept their coats; and the fall of afternoon light across 
the shrubs and pergolas, limpid and subtle, did not belong to summer. 

"Do you think everything's going all right?" Raymond asked 
Elizabeth; he had to ask her something, he must always have a word 
or two with any beautiful woman, as the chronic tourist maddened by 
railway posters must have one sight of Clovelly and Florence and the 
Midnight Sun. "They all seem to be shouting in each other's faces, I 
suppose that means they're all quite happy. I suppose really I ought 
to introduce people, only I never can remember anyone's name. I 
haven't the faintest notion what yours is." 

"I'm Elizabeth Kinfowell — I'm just a stray friend of Armorel's, 
so you don't have to work out relationships or anything. You have met 
my husband?" 

"What? No. This one? Ohowdudu, yes, I think we have." (They 
always had these husbands, stuffed and senseless and smiling, like 
guardian eunuchs.) "I feel I can forgive anybody anything," he said, 
with the confused intention of being friendly, "so long as he's not a 
relation and not going to be." 

"A very enjoyable occasion!" Henry said, as if declaring the 
bazaar open. 

"Good God! Do you think so?" 

"Ah, it may be that I have an element of romance in my nature." 
Henry's voice, which charged each syllable with separate importance, 

i68 



was unexpectedly soft in timbre: he was one who could show in every 
radiant gesture the gladness with which he suffered fools. "You know, 
when I go to a wedding I feel that the joy of the happy pair overflows 
into the hearts of those all round them, like the burns that flow down 
from Bendeoch to bring all the glen into leaf and flower." 

"Yes, I suppose so." 

"And can be turned into electricity, too," Elizabeth added. 

"Ah," said Henry, "there you have a very interesting proposition." 

Having steered the men towards suitable pastures, Elizabeth 
slipped away, intending to find Duffy. So: the hearts of all these twit- 
tering people were soak-aways for the bridal happiness? She was sure 
that Henry believed so, that the sunshine had found a response in his 
sensibility, that he was alight with friendliness towards everyone in this 
Frithian paradise and saw his feelings reflected in the faces about him. 
For in such a mind as his, where the working-parts were as snugly 
fitted as a launch's engines, there was room for all the emotions to 
alight and dance without risk of fouling the cogs. Perhaps he was right. 
Perhaps it was merely her own solitude which made her see this gather- 
ing as a carnival of loneliness, where the flags on the little houses waved 
to each other and the people crouched singly behind drawn blinds. She 
had talked for a while to Simon Ardree, who had failed to find a place 
in Flock's team of blacklegs and was fecklessly trying to mend a broken 
chair with a piece of bootlace: he had stood up, rubbing his hands on 
his serge trousers, had reluctantly told her that his son was "a good 
lad, as far as he go, but rough, as you might say, which is only natu- 
ral," twisting his long neck, peering over and round her as if he thought 
she was holding a summons behind her back; and had smiled, with 
manifest relief, only as she left him. She had caught the same expres- 
sion, the look of a man hiding, in the eyes of Gian himself, when 
Armorel, moving with sober grace from group to group, had brought 
him to her. Gian had said carefully, with a dignity of its own kind, 
"Pleased to meet you, m'm, very glad you could come!" and she fancied 
that his eyes, in one momentary liaison with hers, had added, "That's 
all I'm allowed to say in this performance." It caught hold of her, this 
notion, so that the shreds of conversation glancing her ears, the ami- 
abilities, even the whispered troubles, had become a trellis of deception. 
And nothing I say myself, she reflected, is born in my mind ; my tongue 
is like a piece of glass sending darts of borrowed light into people's 
eyes, preventing them from seeing inside. She caught sight now of the 

i6() 



misshapen girl she had noticed in church, standing by herself on the 
far side of the lily-pond, and instinctively she went to join her. 

"I'm a friend of Armorel's," she said, "my name's Elizabeth." 

Daise Empire said, "Oh," and half-turned away. 

"I suppose it's rather rude of me, but I felt I must tell you how 
much I admire your frock." It was a crude assembly of green satin. 
"I saw it in church." 

"Oh, it's just a cut-up of an old one my mum used to have." 

"Did you make it yourself? I do think that's clever, I can never 
get the collar to fit like that. It's a jolly party, isn't it! — only I hardly 
know anyone here, I have to be content with watching the others. 
You're a friend of Gian's, I expect? What a fine, strong face he's got." 

"Yes, 'm." 

"You've known him for a long time?" 

"Yes, 'm." 

The creature was all but hopeless. To her repulsive deformities was 
added, in the canary voice, the coy turning of her head, a callow affecta- 
tion hardly easier to surmount than the dreadful fixity of the insane. 
But there are those who must travel in a strange country merely be- 
cause they know there is nothing but discomfort to be found there. 
Elizabeth signalled to Ormison, who was passing and who brought two 
chairs; she sat down so that it was natural to look a little forward of 
Daise's face, turning only now and again to meet her eyes. 

"You're a Londoner, I expect? I wish I was! I lived in the coun- 
try right up till the time I was married. Of course that was nice in a 
way, but now I've got to live in London I always feel such a stranger — 
I'm ashamed of myself all the time for being so slow about things, never 
knowing which bus goes where and all the things which are so easy 
for people like you ..." 

In a little while Daise was talking: not fluently or with any show 
of pleasure, but giving out short lengths of speech like the strips of 
ticket which the box-office girl releases. Yes, she had always lived at 
Bidault's Place. Her brother had gone away, to Canada, she fancied, 
and her elder sister had died. Mum had always kept the house really 
nice, like houses where she had been in service, but she was ill in bed 
now, had been for quite a time. Gian Ardree had always been kind. 
Well, in all sorts of ways, "only he don't get on with Dad." Of her 
father she spoke negatively: he never did touch the drink or put his 
money on horses; he had been a preacher of some kind once, but he 

170 



didn't do that now . . . But that was not all, Elizabeth thought. This 
picture of an existence framed by four close walls, so commonplace that 
a score of words were enough to draw it, was not the whole picture. 
Some accident? A midwife's shameful incompetence? or something fur- 
ther back? She tried, looking across the lawn at the frocks and the 
smiling faces, to imagine the possession of a body which made people 
stare and then turn quickly away. That should be enough, God knew, 
to account for everything she saw in this girl's eyes: enough, except for 
one who had felt the first terrifying signs of Michael's coming, who had 
sat beside him when the doctors thought he was certain to die. She 
asked, merely as an idler throws pebbles into a pond, easing a silence, 
"Do you have any visitors at all?" and the result of that innocent 
question was frightening. It was as if a gentle, friendly person had 
turned without warning upon a child, barking, "Caught you! Thief!" 
In a voice suddenly roughened Daise said: 

"Why? / don't ask them!" 

Elizabeth said quickly: "I was only wondering if I might come 
sometime. I thought your mother might like someone new to talk to 
occasionally. And perhaps you could show me how you get the collar 
of a dress to fit so beautifully." 

Trevon was coming across the lawn ; with his hands in his pockets, 
hulking and contemptuous, parading his shabbiness and his detach- 
ment. 

"Oh, Trevon, there you are — I was trying to find you." And how 
fatally, she thought, this man chooses his moments to appear. "This is 
a friend of mine, Daise Empire. Daise has known Gian for a long time. 
This is Trevon Grist — he's another friend of Gian's." 

Rather to her surprise, Trevon behaved well: his manner changed 
as when an actor comes back into the wings, the contempt fell off, leav- 
ing a gracious simplicity. He said, stooping to hold Daise's hand, smil- 
ing as if she were a woman of charm and distinction: "I want to know 
all Gian's friends! Are they looking after you properly? This party's a 
terrible muddle, you must come to our Christmas party at Hollysian 
House, we'll run that properly — perhaps you'd come as one of the hos- 
tesses? Susie's going to be one of them, I hope." 

But Daise would not respond to his warmth. She mumbled some- 
thing about "better be getting on" and walked away, looking for a new 
place where she could be unnoticed and alone. 

Trevon stared after her, and then turned round to look at Eliza- 
beth's dress. 



171 



"Who got her here?" he said with closed teeth. "That poor fool 
Ardree, I suppose. She's not fit to be in a show like this." 

"What do you mean?" 

"I mean, among all these titivated baboons. I don't know her, but 
she looks an honest creature to me, she comes from an honest part of 
this filthy capital. These people here — my God, have you looked at 
them? The pullulating aftermath of the Disraelian age! That chittering 
opossum who's supposed to be running this circus — some cousin or 
something of Susie's — have you seen him? Just hanging on in the hope 
of being bought up for the South Kensington museum. Well, they're 
having a run for their money, aren't they! Nothing these sort of people 
like more than a mating, and when you give 'em a really first-class 
piece of miscegenation, from the way they look at it, it's worth a couple 
of hangings and a whipping thrown in. Still more fun if she'd married 
me — God, how the Cepinnier clan would have rushed to buy up old 
copies of the Sunday mucksheets and get all the details! Really I 
think I should quite have enjoyed that wedding — I'd have gone round 
with a camera and photographed every one of Susie's relations in the 
act of inspecting me. I — " 

"Listen," Elizabeth said peaceably, between the fall of the waves, 
"I want to take you and introduce you to my husband." 

"That man over there?" he asked. "Ben Lomond back from the 
dry-cleaners? Yes, I thought it was — that type always has a woman like 
you. It's not that they have any real taste — they just have the rich 
man's instinct for value. What on earth's the point of my meeting him?" 

"Well, I want you to stay with us tonight — " 

"Stay with you? Good God! Why in the world—?" 

"Because tonight I think you're quite likely to do something stupid 
if you're not looked after." ^ 

"Stupid? What do you mean?" He looked into her face and then 
he said: "Oh, I see, you've been turning up old newspapers! Juicy 
reading!" 

"Surely," she said patiently, "it's only very childish people who 
go to the newspapers for excitement. People titillate themselves with 
second-hand scandals when they've never been within a hundred miles 
of getting mixed up in one. I shouldn't think that anybody who's once 
been in a sordid situation finds sordidness amusing." 

He did not answer that directly. He said: "Anyway, I can't stay 
with you, not tonight. Very kind of you, but I've got to have some 

172 



sort of amusement tonight. I can't go on living like a monk — what's 
the good of it?" And then: "In a way I'm glad this has happened. At 
least it's got Susie clear of me — that would have been the worst thing 
that could have happened. Look here, I've been very rude, I'm sorry. 
It upset me a bit, being in a church — even a church like that. I hadn't 
been inside a church for weeks. You know, they oughtn't to have that 
sort of thing in a church. It's just about the same as having the money- 
changers in the Temple." 

"But you were there of your own accord." 

"I know. I was hunting for magic. I always imagine that some- 
thing will happen and I shall find myself where I was in the old days. It 
doesn't and it can't, it's just an illusion." 

He started to walk away but she followed him ; through the kitchen 
garden, past the rubbish heap and through a gimcrack gate into the 
meadow beyond. He turned to her there and said: "Elizabeth, my 
dear, you'd better keep away from me — as far away as you can. Lon- 
don's large enough, thank God, for two people never to meet each 
other." 

"But why?" she asked. "Just because you're miserable today, and 
don't really want to see any of your friends — " 

"It's not only today," he said. He spoke painfully, like a man with 
severe pleurisy. "Really, I don't want to have any friends, I can do 
with having the boys at the Club, people like that. You know, you're 
most frightfully kind, I wish to God I could repay it in some way, I 
wish I could even accept your kindness. But you see, I'm the sort of 
person — well, I'm beyond the reach of goodness. Well, goodness from 
anyone like you. I've gone much further than people like you can pic- 
ture — I'm glad you can't. There's one sort of virtue left for people like 
me — if you can call it virtue — it's to keep their leprosy to themselves, 
not even to let people know what it's like. I mean that, I'm not just 
making a speech." 

This affected her in a curious way. She was not a woman whom 
anyone could imagine crying: you would have said that she, if no 
other, had done with that. Yet when she spoke it was clear that she 
was crying inwardly, and that only the spartan hold she had upon her 
body prevented tears. She said in a whisper: "But don't you see that 
you're denying me the only kind of purpose that can make me worth 
anything at all — a creature who's muddled her life as much as I have?" 

For just a moment he put his forehead against her shoulder. He 



173 



said uncertainly: 'Terhaps I do see, or almost." He manufactured a 
kind of smile. "I'm sorry. A chacun son enjer. I can't let you into mine 

— not you." 

They went back together towards the house, smiling and bowing 
to people they knew. He said as they walked: "I suppose I'm more 
responsible for this calamity than anyone." She asked, "Do you really 
think it's that?" and he answered, "What else can it be? How could 
she possibly understand him!" "Isn't it a fact," she said, "that love is 
the same thing as understanding?" "That's what I mean." The guests 
were all beginning to work their way towards the front of the house. 

Duffy had arranged to drive the Ardree parents home. "Now you 
just stay exactly where you are," she said, having collected them at the 
foot of the front steps, "and I'll bring my idiotic little car and you can 
use it as a grandstand." Close to the steps, the luxurious car which 
Raymond had ordered to take the married pair away was sleekly wait- 
ing in the half-moon drive. A few yards behind it, having entered the 
drive by right of costliness, a similar car also waited. Oblivious of 
Raymond's elaborate parking plans, dead to the niceties of caste in the 
motor world, case-hardened against every kind of embarrassment, Duffy 
fetched her small saloon from the queue of cars in the road and suc- 
ceeded, by a series of volcanic manoeuvres, in placing it between the 
two landaulets. 

This was at least a welcome diversion for the guests, who were 
waiting for the climax of the party with a slightly bilious impatience. 
The conversation of relations who meet rarely — "Tell me, do you hear 
anything of Louisa nowadays? — " was petering out, and the special 
strains which this occasion had put on their social resources were reach- 
ing the limit of tolerance. They had the pleasure now of watching this 
round and red-faced girl tugging her wheel first this way then the other 
in impartial and affable response to the conflicting directions of Ser- 
geant Flock, of Reg Ormison, Captain Desterin, Ed Hugg, Mr Olleroyd 
and a rubicund coachman-turned-chauffeur in a frenzy of anxiety for 
the rear wings of the hired car. They saw Simon reluctantly climbing 
up to sit on the roof of the saloon, and the peculiar Mr Olleroyd, who 
looked and moved as if he had lately been unpacked after long storage, 
being shoved and hoisted after him. Then it was Maria Ardree's turn; 
and Maria, who for some time had been quietly but openly sobbing, 
was astonishingly changed into a giggling, squealing schoolgirl as Flock 

174 



and Desterin, locked shoulder-to-shoulder and crying "Steady — hup I", 
slowly raised her formidable bulk into the air, while Simon hauled 
valiantly on her gigantic arms, her daughter and son-in-law steadied 
the load with their hands on her stupendous ankles and Ormison with 
his innate gentility hung on to her skirt and kept it in place. A mo- 
ment of doubt and alarm, a short, heroic struggle, and she was up, the 
roof of the car was bending ominously in the middle, and Duffy return- 
ing to the driver's seat was joyfully calling that the roof didn't matter 
a hoot in hell, "Room for all!" Mr Olleroyd suddenly cried, and Ed 
and Rosie got up too. "Really!" the Cepinnier faction murmured, 
doubtful like Malvern Festival audiences whether one smiled on such 
an occasion as this. "Stand-by!" Flock ordered sharply. "Wait till you 
see the whites of their eyes!" and the Club contingent, wickedly grasp- 
ing their bags of rice, edged back into the firing line. 

And still the principal actors did not appear. 

It was Raymond's avowed and sincere belief that he was an un- 
lucky fellow. In truth, he was one whose rare gift for mismanagement 
invites from fortune a co-operative provision of disaster; just as a man 
too incompetent to board the right train will generally find himself 
on the one which takes him furthest from his destination in circum- 
stances of the highest discomfort. His intentions at this stage were 
faultless. He realized that his guests were nearly demented with embar- 
rassment and boredom, that the Lambeth boys might get beyond con- 
trol at any moment, that he himself was in danger of seizing James 
Ardree, who went on and on about the tea-garden scheme, and wring- 
ing his neck. He therefore said explosively, "Wait! I'll go and hustle up 
those two!" rammed his way through the crowd and charged upstairs. 

Gian was waiting, as if for execution, on the landing. Raymond, 
almost felling him with a friendly pat on the shoulder, said, "These 
blasted women!" strode across to the room where Armorel was chang- 
ing and hammered on the door. "Armorel, my dear, will you be a sweet 
girl and for God's sake stop trying on fresh suspenders and come and 
take your husband to Jericho or wherever you're going!" In half a 
minute Armorel emerged, but the interval was long enough for Ray- 
mond to be visited by one of his Good Ideas. "Look here!" he said 
brilliantly, taking one arm of hers and one of Gian's, "the hall's abso- 
lutely crawling with relations and things, I'll take you down the back 
way and we'll cut out most of that nonsense with the confetti." Life 
had taught this man nothing at all. 

175 



The manoeuvre seemed to work well enough. From the side door 
of the house a clump of lilacs reached out to the drive. Advancing be- 
hind this screen, Raymond made a dart for the door of the Daimler 
he saw there and pulled it open. The pair were inside the car before 
anyone had seen them. 

The Kinfowell chauffeur was wakened from his habitual doze by 
the sound of the door being slammed and a voice saying authoritatively: 
"Right away, driver!" Mr Kinfowell was a man usually in a hurry, the 
chauffeur a master of his craft. The chauffeur's hand had started the 
engine almost before he woke, his eyes told him in less than a second 
that the way forward was finally blocked by Duffy's saloon; in seven 
seconds he had reversed with perfect artistry into the road and was 
moving forward on the other lock. 

Pleased with the success of his strategy, Raymond strolled towards 
the steps, gently rubbing his hands and smiling. He considered every 
show of enthusiasm un-English, he detested the custom of bombarding 
married couples, and above all else he loathed the thought of any 
vulgarity in the quiet avenue where he and his neighbours had spent 
most of their lives. All this he seemed to have avoided by one stroke 
of shrewdness, and the sight of a white-rosetted car in front of him, 
with its driver holding the door open, failed to disturb his complacency. 
The fact that something might be wrong was first conveyed to his intel- 
ligence by Henry Kinfowell. Arriving at the front door, Henry had 
observed some £2,000 worth of his property moving smartly towards 
the main road, and like others who can well afford to lose £2,000 he 
regarded such a prospect with a slightly pathological distaste. He let 
out a pistol-shot of "Hech! They've stolen my motor!" and simul- 
taneously came a bellow from Flock, "Oy! The bleeders have got 
away!" 

The boys were out in the road like a pack of hounds and went in 
full cry after the retreating car with Flock at their heels. With a sharp 
"I'll catch them, sir!" Desterin had jumped to the wheel of the hired 
car and propelled it towards the gate, while Raymond and Henry 
together pushed the bewildered driver aside and jumped in the back. 
But Duffy was quicker still. Designed by nature to embellish the folly 
of others, ignited by a passion to serve, she called "You leave it to me!" 
and while Desterin was threading the Daimler through a tangle of 
guests she shot her car in one faultless backward curve out onto the 
road. The Huggs jumped down as it started to move, Mr OUeroyd came 

176 



shoulders first into the Hlacs^ Simon hung on as far as the gate and there 
dropped off into the arms of Everard Liske. Too scared to scream or 
weep, Maria remained aloft. As the car stopped in the road she slid 
to the side. As it moved forward she glided back When it gathered 
speed she slowly rolled over on to one elbow and remained like 
Madame Recamier, semi-reclined and statuesque but still slipping aft 
an inch at a time, her face identical in shade and expression with the 
face of Lot's wife. ''Stop her!" yelled Simon, tearing in pursuit. "You 
let Mum off!" screamed Ed, as a hand waved cheerfully from the driv- 
er's window. "I'll stop them!" Duffy called back. The spray of charg- 
ing boys across the road forced her to slow down, Desterin raced the 
Daimler up beside her, and Raymond's agonized face appeared. "You've 
got a woman on top!" he yelled. "I'll make them stop!" Duffy echoed, 
smiling and waving, steering with her left hand and cramming Desterin 
on to the kerb. "Keep over, you silly bitch!" Desterin roared, as the 
two cars went on side by side, yawing in harmony. "Faster, man!" 
Henry grunted, while Raymond writhed in the corner muttering "O 
my God! Hell take and damn these lunatics, God knows what every- 
one will think!" The sharper-witted guests had joined the pursuit in 
their cars, the rest followed on foot and the toughest caught up Simon 
and Ed, who with arms spread wide were running hard upon Duffy's 
tail, ready for the moment when Maria would finally slide off. "Dis- 
graceful!" moaned Irene, hobbling in the rear as fast as her high, tight 
shoes would let her. "I know he'll kill himself this time!'' "So drama- 
tic!" Christine panted, lurching along beside her. "So bad for Arthur 
Augustus!" With Flock now in the lead and lengthening his stride the 
boys increased their pace, hysterically shouting and scattering rice as 
they ran. Through the rear window ot the leading Daimler, now sixty 
yards ahead^ Armorel smiled and waved, while at fifteen miles an hour 
the whole Gadarene concourse poured up the genteel avenue, bawling, 
"Stop him! Stop her! Stop that car! Come back!'' 

A coal-cart coming up Hendon Lane set limits to this parade of 
indignity. Henry's car was obliged to stop and the pursuers drew up on 
both sides. All the doors opened at once. 

"That happens to be my motor!" 

"Armorel, you nanny-goat!" (This was Raymond.) "What do you 
mean by going off in this old fool's car!" 

"Rellie dear," called Duffy, "there's something wrong. They say 
you've got the wrong husband or — oh, my aunt!" 

177 



The saloon had slackened speed just when Maria had travelled 
as far to the rear as she could without coming off. The laws of motion 
operating with perfection, she had started to move the other way, slowly 
and quite passively, ignoring equally her husband's, "Hold on where 
you are, Maria!" and Ed Hugg's "Jump for it, quick!" As the car came 
to rest her pace slightly increased. Fascinated, Simon stopped dead, 
while Ed crashed into the door of the other car: it was Flock who 
reached the spot in time, the sportsman Liske came up beside him and 
the Fidgley brothers closed in behind. "Get set!" squealed Flock, and 
Everard murmured, "Mine, I think!" as Maria's person reached the 
forward edge of the roof and hovered there for a moment, like a tree 
at the last stroke of the axe, before descending with a curious majesty, 
upside down, by the sloped windshield to the bonnet and thence to the 
arms of the Field. 

"At my age tsat is not right!" Maria said. 

As if Raymond's humiliation needed some outside help to arrive 
at his standards of unpleasantness, the rain had started again. 

"Somebody get an ambulance!" Raymond barked; in his day- 
dreams he was a leader of men. "I don't care if she is all right, I said 
'Get an ambulance'! You, young woman, you must be mad. I don't 
know where the proper driver is, somebody find him — no, no use wast- 
ing time, somebody get a taxi! And someone for God's sake drive away 
these infernal boys!" 

But while Raymond fumed and blustered Henry had seen what 
had to be done. "You will honour me," he said to Armorel, "by stepping 
back into my car. No, no, the pleasure is mine. You, sir," to Gian, 
"please tell my chauffeur to take you exactly where you wish." He 
bowed, he gave them both his enchanting smile and ceremoniously re- 
closed the door. 

As the car started to move again a dowdy, breathless and wet- 
eyed woman whom no one had seen before ran up to the window call- 
ing weakly "God bless you!" and thrust in an envelope with a cheque 
for a hundred pounds; she was lost at once in the surge of boys who 
saw their prey escaping once more and were rocketing after it like a 
horde of banshees, hurling the last of their ammunition at its tail. The 
Daimler beat them; it was off like an arrow and away down Gravel 
Hill, leaving the spent affray behind: the Ardrees and Duffy bunched 
together in a babel of laughter and explanations, Irene sobbing and 
upbraiding her protector, Maria embracing Flock and Everard in turn ; 

178 



while Raymond like an anguished ghost shambled from one group to 
the -next, still issuing vague commands, still telling everyone that he 
was not to blame, and Georgina, whom hardly anyone had noticed, was 
hobbling back towards the station, and a little way down Hendon Lane 
with her dreadful face to the wall Daise Empire was strangely and 
bitterly crying. 



i8 

c 

kJaturday. Wet nearly all morning. Read Edsell's Case Records 
of Industrial Neurosis, stiff but brilliantly logical. Got Daily Mirror 
and Wide World Magazine for G, but he spent most of time amusing 
adenoidal Cupwin children. Mrs C free to concentrate on Film Pic- 
torial and V. grateful. Walk on promenade before lunch. G agrees to 
resume tech course to please me. P.M. Got blue tie for G, 6/6, very 
bright but good. G v. pleased, I think. He wanted to get me night-gown 
we saw in window of Bon Marche, but I said he must not pay so much. 
I think he thought I didn't like it because it was so very revealing at 
bust, poor darling is full of inhibitions. Tea Miranda's Parlour. Eve- 
ning Pavilion to hear Julia Barelli. G stood this well and said, "I reckon 
she know her job," which makes me see possibilities. I thought her 
treatment of Chopin grotesquely over-romantic. The woman has tech- 
nical power, but prostitutes it to sentimentalism— the right commercial 
policy, I suppose, in a popular resort like this. 

Sunday. Morning wet. I read. G played with C children. P.M. Mrs 
C who never deviates from respectability thought children must go to 
local Sunday school, and G said he would take them as Mrs C busy 
placing stars in order of popularity for P.P. competition. G thinks he 
is nominally Catholic but "don't mind a bit of a service." Shall not 
interfere with this, G not yet far enough on to understand insoluble 
contradictions in Messianic hypothesis. He evidently thought I might 
join S.S. party. Said I had letters to do, G perfectly complaisant. Wrote 
Eliz re Henry and details of job for G. Tea Miranda then walk to far 
end of promenade. G quiet but I think quite contented, he evidently 
enjoyed singing rowdy hymns with C children. Tried to lead on to sub- 
ject of Empire family but G not disposed. Saw gay socks in Bon 
Marche which I will get for G. 



179 



Monday. G had letter which he told me came from Trevon. Rain 
all morning, I read The Approach to Adult Education (Cheames), early 
chapters sound but then Cheames gets fogged with Messianic hocus- 
pocus. G took C children to pier in mackintoshes. P.M. Meant to walk 
to Hawkes Cliff, but rain came on when we reached end of promenade. 
Tea Miranda. Saw Trevon's letter in bedroom, nothing except male 
heartiness. Before supper some trouble when G alone with Cupwins, 
apparently Mrs C slaps little Desiree for persistent disobedience (little 
D continually interrupting when Mrs C trying to read). G incensed, 
goes for Mrs C, and offers to knock block off negligible Mr C who 
feebly supports her. Took reasonable line as one always can and affair 
more or less blew over. Explained afterwards to G that one cannot 
interfere between parents and children, certainly not in boarding- 
houses. G penitent though I don't think he altogether understood. 

Tuesday. G slipped out and bought the expensive night-gown with 
some of the last of money his uncle James gave him. Shall wait till 
later to explain that we mustn't go in for extravagances — do not want 
to hurt G's feelings in smallest way. Rain cleared and we set out for 
Hawkes Cliff, but rain started again when we reached end of prome- 
nade. P.M. Heavy rain. 

Intermittently the record trickled on for nearly two years, filling 
four 'Law-Students' notebooks. She came upon them twelve years after 
the first was begun, and wasted half-an-hour (she called it waste) dip- 
ping and reading; seated on the floor of the attic in Weald Street with 
her back against a tea-chest, covered with dust, her tongue just show- 
ing between her lips. 

They have value of a kind, these invertebrate and toneless diaries. 
Occasionally, at least, they mean something later on to their authors, 
especially if these are women: something of the 'historic site' order, an 
object to regard with respect and tenderness, a stimulus to memory. 
(Mrs Cupwin? But of course — the blue and white dress designed for 
a woman ten years younger, the idiotic fuss about using the bath- 
room!) The handwriting, the naivete, will provoke a faintly agreeable 
wistfulness: how young I was, how callow then! And almost certainly 
she will say, in the formula that belongs to necromancy, 'How it brings 
it all back!': seeing no contradiction there. 

No, in 1932 those days on the Suffolk coast could not return. It is 
true that most of the elements might have been recalled, for the small 

180 



resort, already fallen from social esteem in 1920, had altered little in 
twelve years. The North View Hotel was still open, with its shallow 
verandah, the zigzag steps which led through a waste of blown sand 
and tamarisk to the promenade: Miss Exel remained proprietress, one 
or two of the same end-of-season guests still came each year. Had 
Armorel returned to the second-floor room she would have found the 
furniture almost unchanged, the door of the wardrobe held shut with 
a piece of paper and groaning eerily when it was opened; the view 
identical, with the bay windows of the Alderney, the sparse hedge of 
a bowling green, the pierhead just showing over the signboard which 
said Mrs Harper's Family Bathing. On any October morning when 
the sun suddenly burst upon the dripping promenade, while the spray 
of high tide whipped against the beach huts, the sound and smell of 
the place would have been the same. But between the ages of twenty- 
one and thirty-three the senses are slightly changed, eyes fastened to 
much mending will focus a little differently, the palate is matured and 
dulled by many hurried meals of left-overs in the acid London air. 
Experience continually shifts the point of view: when you have been 
out to work, borne children and moved house, the breath of changing 
seasons will have lost its quintessence and the stir of a crowded street 
will not excite you in exactly the same way. 

What no diary would return to her, as she sat in the dusty attic 
and pretended not to hear Tonie calling, was her own response to all 
the incidents of those few wet days. Nowhere had she written, ''I was 
happy." And indeed, so bald a phrase could have carried no meaning 
through such a space of time. Yet it was happiness, of a sort, which 
pervaded the opening of her married life; a kind of contentment which 
belongs more often to men than to women, and is proof against many 
discomforts, outlasting the long terms when no progress is made, the 
sharp set-backs: it was the embracing happiness of purpose. 

There was one hour when the realization of her sacrifice over- 
whelmed her, when fear and misery convulsed her in tears. This was 
on the third morning, when the sun coming through thin curtains woke 
her early and she lay listening to the sounds which penetrated the thin 
walls, to the sneeze of small waves and the scrape of shingle. There 
was light enough to show her trousseau clothes on the chair, the dress- 
ing-case which the Kinfowells had given her and Gian's rexine valise, 
the florid set of bedroom china on the jerry-built washstand: a smell 
of bacon already rose from the kitchen, mingled with the house's perma- 

181 



nent smells, linoleum polish and bathing dresses drying. Something, per- 
haps the shift of the curtains and the breeze touching her face, made 
her think of the room she had shared with Christine at Hayward's 
Heath, and with that flick of memory she felt the loneliness and terror 
of exile. The tears came like a jet of steam across her eyes, she thrust 
her face into the pillow and could feel the bed moving on its castors 
with her sobs. 

Gian lay fast asleep with his face toward the door. She had almost 
recovered when he turned and half opened his eyes to regard her 
cloudily. "Something wrong?" he asked. He moved a sleepy hand to 
touch her arm, but feeling no response drew it away. He turned over 
again and she got up to wash and dress. 

But that was only a passing feebleness which sprang — she decided 
later in the day — from some physical cause. When, with some dim 
recollection, Gian asked if she had slept well she told him that a silly 
dream had made her wake in a fright. 

For the present her single concern was to make him content: to 
give him everything he needed for comfort and recreation, above all 
to nourish his self-esteem. How carefully she had planned this holiday. 
She would avoid the big and crowded resorts, where Gian chancing to 
meet his friends would feel awkward in the new holiday clothes, but 
the place she chose must have at least some of the pleasures he was 
used to, the shooting galleries and the winkle bars. She would not 
launch him into a showy hotel, to be alarmed by tail-coated servants, 
but she rejected equally the poky lodgings which might make him feel 
she was ashamed and hiding him. Everything must be done cheaply, 
and yet there should be a flavour of extravagance, it must appear that 
she herself was having not only the best but the first treat of this kind. 
In all these meticulous calculations she had little to guide her: there 
were no terms in which she could consult Gian himself, she could only 
estimate his feelings by a species of arithmetic based on her own. 
Continually on guard against anything which might injure his pride, 
she phrased her plans as suggestions, leaving decisions, as it appeared, 
to him. She was careful to see that Raymond's cheque, which was to 
keep them going for a month or two, was made out to Gian. When there 
were letters he could not write she asked some favour- which would 
keep him occupied and told him afterwards, "Oh, Gian, as you were 
busy I just wrote to Carter Paterson myself." At every chance she 
pretended some kind of ignorance — did he think they ought to ring 

182 



the bell or wait till someone came? would someone come in to take her 
shoes for cleaning or should she put them outside the door? — and if he 
only frowned and scratched his head she laughed, squeezing his arm, 
and said what a lot they had to learn. There was pleasure in the mere 
contrivance, and he increased it by the gravity with which he played 
his part. The anxiety which his eyes and forehead showed had already 
dwindled. He even smiled when he made mistakes she could not con- 
ceal — that curious, fleeting smile which she had first observed in the 
house in Mickett Lane — and he learnt rapidly, repeating any point 
she tactfully gave him with a quick, assenting nod. It was wrong to 
call Miss Exel 'Mum' and to shout loudly at the waitress? "I got it!" 
A man could wear his cap in the vestibule but not in the lounge? ''Got 
that!" And she saw with delight how, when he came a second time to 
some piece of routine he had mastered, his head went up with confidence. 
There were other factors which might partly account for this increase 
in stature: the rich air, the sensible meals which he was getting for 
the first time in his life: but as she covertly observed his face, when 
he sat at ease in the verandah gazing at the life of the promenade, she 
could feel like one who cuts away an overgrowth of trees and sees the 
stunted plant below just starting to push up towards its natural height. 

Miss Exel quietly explained to Mrs Cupwin, taking her into her 
own room, that this Mr Ardree was not the kind of guest they usually 
had at the North View. 

"You do see how it is, Mrs Cupwin, the letter came from her, 
really nice paper, and the writing and everything, and when you've 
had the experience I've had, well, you do know how to judge that sort 
of thing. So naturally I thought he'd be the same. Though of course 
with the war and everything you don't quite know where you are, the 
same as you used to in the old days." 

The deception (as she secretly called it) was indeed hard on Miss 
Exel, whose grandfather had been mayor of Lowestoft and who brought 
a sense of duty to her calling. No hotel can be run without a policy, 
and the pains she took in placing her advertisements were equalled by 
her care with all the minutiae of management. She was a woman of 
practical charity. She wanted her guests to be happy, class distinction 
was the enemy of happiness and she stoically repulsed it from North 
View by telling the unsuitable that her accommodation was already 
booked for the entire season. Small gradations she recognized — you 

183 



would find them, surely, even in such an establishment as the Alderney — 
and these she sought to mitigate by her skilful allotment of tables, so 
that people of the same kind would find themselves neighbours. Long ago 
she had moved her own things into a smaller room so as to make the 
front room of the entresol into a second lounge: the label Private stayed 
on the door, and she would only mention the room, choosing a tactful 
opportunity, to one or two guests whose letters had come on die-stamped 
paper. "If you do find the lounge a tiny bit crowded, Mrs Duntis- 
bourne, I hope you'll make use of my little drawing-room. You will 
have it quite to yourself, except for Captain and Mrs Bede and the two 
Miss Leppings." And in every approach to what she sometimes called 
'my North View family', in wishing them good-morning, suggesting 
appropriate excursions, calling attention to the little rules she had made 
for the general harmony, she showed the same sensibility towards their 
individual feelings. "What I want," she said, directing Gracie to put 
the napkin with the darns on Miss Green's table, the newer one on 
Mr Filleul's, "is to make everyone — no matter who they are — feel they 
are getting just as much atttention here as they are used to everywhere 
else." Her benevolence shone all day in her puckered, rather mournful 
eyes, it was reflected in a score of little notices: 'Guests retiring after 
10 P.M.,' are kindly asked to remember, that Others may be Asleep, 
Thank-You!' '"T-0-W-E-L-S." To avoid Loss and Possible Incon- 
venience of Guests, who will follow, You are asked to kindly not use 
them, on the Beach. Thank-You!' She was a small, stout, friendless 
woman of forty-six, all day long you heard the whimper of her glace 
slippers as she sped from room to room upon her duties and her little 
kindnesses, opening a window in the lounge, adding a dash of pepper to 
the soup in the kitchen, straightening Mrs Duntisbourne's quilt and 
popping a vase of flowers on the Miss Leppings' chest of drawers; 
wondering with threadbare optimism if the Bedes would remember to 
send her a card at Christmas-time. 

"And you see, Mrs Cupwin, now they are here I can't very well 
ask them to go, can II I mean, I couldn't send a lady like Mrs Ardree 
to one of those places in St Michael's Road — that isn't at all the sort 
of thing she would be used to, would it now?" 

Mrs Cupwin lit a new cigarette from the old. "Well, I wouldn't 
worry if I was you. Miss Exel. I'm sure / don't mind. What I say is — 
I was saying to Mr Cupwin only last night — you can't expect to pick 
and choose in these days, it's no use minding who you rub shoulders 

184 



with, you've got to take the rough with the smooth, 1 said. I said the 
same to Miss St Estwyn and she agreed with what I said. She's nice, 
isn't she, Miss St Estwyn! Old-fashioned, of course. Lovely place she 
used to have in Berks, I'm told." 

In truth, Mrs Cupwin did not at all mind Gian being in the hotel, 
especially as the Ardrees were up on the second floor and had the table 
near the service hatch, while hers was next but one to Miss St Estwyn's. 
She liked a mystery. At night, when she drowsed over a magazine in bed 
and Harold lay on his back already snoring, she conjured a semblance 
of Gian's face, the brutality of his brows and jaw, and the current of 
her thoughts would run warm and pleasantly. By day the young man 
had practical uses: in the unaccountable fashion of children Eileen and 
Desiree liked him, and as long as they didn't pick up his accent that 
attachment was much to her convenience. But he yielded values beyond 
these. Watching the incongruous pair at their almost silent meals, 
following them along the promenade, the man jacked up in his brand- 
new collar and sports coat with the slimly tailored girl holding his 
docile arm, she could re-assess her own spare fortunes. How well-man- 
nered, after all, her Harold was, how quick to open doors for ladies, 
even if he smirked a little and followed through with a quick, washing 
movement of his hands. If the clothes he got for holidays were never 
exactly what she would have wished, how unself-consciously he wore 
them; and if he was not a tall man, a height of sixty-seven inches was 
nothing to be ashamed of. Those thoughts were scarcely formulated, 
they refreshed her mind as the sea air brought refreshment to her lungs 
and skin. She said to Miss St Estwyn: 

"Well, I suppose the girl's made her own choice, and it's not for 
anyone to interfere now. It's up to her to make what she can of him." 
(How fully she understood that.) "And you know, I do think I've seen 
some improvement in the young man already. I can't help noticing 
the way he watches Mr Cupwin, little things he sees my hubby doing. 
It makes a difference, don't you think, to really see how things ought 
to be done — you know, little things, I mean." 

"Yes, I'm sure Miss Exel does the best she can for all of us," 
the deaf old lady said agreeably, playing with her locket, graciously 
smiling, bowing herself away to the safety of the little drawing-room 
on the entresol. 

In different degrees they were all grateful for so rich a source of 
speculation, not less stimulating because it had to be handled rather as 

i8s 



the slipper which is hunted at children's parties and to be tucked away 
adroitly whenever the couple appeared. There was mystery here (as 
Mrs Cupwin had confided to each in turn) and it brought closer to- 
gether a group of people who were themselves rather sadly unmysterious. 
Mrs Askell knew there was a baby behind it somewhere, and Mr 
Askell, whose views in the last nine years had turned out to be the 
same as hers, knew that as well, while Mr Bishop from Southampton 
said firmly with one side of his close, sagacious mouth, "Money — if you 
ask me!" But the elderly Miss Geswick met all such theories with her 
dim, elusive smile. "That isn't what / think!" she dehcately said. 
What Miss Geswick thought no one was informed, and in Mr Bishop's 
opinion Miss Geswick did not know. But if she lacked a theory she had 
visions which made her lock the door of her room and keep the light 
on all night. 

"Well, he's a quiet enough sort of chap, anyway," Mr Bishop said, 
passing the scones to Miss St Estwyn. 

"That's exactly what I don't like!" Mr Cupwin shrewdly com- 
mented. 

Mrs Askell agreed with Mr Cupwin. She said with meaning, "It's 
the quiet sort that cause the trouble, more often than not," and her 
husband said, "That's right!" 

"I mean to say," Mr Cupwin explained, "you see these photo- 
graphs of these fellows in the papers, fellows run in for housebreaking 
and worse things than that, and you'd say from the look of them they 
were quite ordinary sort of fellows." 

Unexpectedly Miss Geswick broke in, playing her ace. She said 
triumphantly: "It's the eyes that tell you! Aren't I right. Miss St 
Estwyn?" 

Miss St Estwyn graciously shook her head. "No, thank-you, no 
more for me." 

Mrs Cupwin said: "Well, all the same, / think he's got quite 
nice-looking eyes." 

"Now then! Now then!" Mr Bishop mechanically interposed. 

"Yes, but have you looked at the shape of his chin?" Mr Askell 
demanded. 

"Or at the top of his head?" asked Mrs Askell. 

"Chap who's done a bit of boxing, I should say." 

"Or butchering." 

"Exactly!" said Miss Geswick with finality. 

i86 



Mr Cupwin said hesitantly, "Well, you do get decent enough fel- 
lows in the butchering business, same as any other sort of business," 
and his wife added at once, "If it wasn't for the butchering trade I 
don't see how we'd get any meat. Harold, pass the biscuits to Mrs 
Askell." 

"Is Mr Ardree a person who kills cows," Eileen inquired, "or does 
he only chop them up, like — " 

"Now, Eileen," her mother said promptly, "If you've finished your 
tea you can wipe your hands and run along and play in the verandah." 

Mr Cupwin, collecting his own and his wife's tea things and 
carrying them back to the tray, felt suddenly the need to establish him- 
self. He was, after all, a man who had come a long way under his own 
steam — he had his kids at a private school along with the doctor's 
little girl — while most of these folks here were pretty much where their 
parents had put them, neither further back nor further on. He moved 
deliberately to the fireplace, stood with his heels on the fender and put 
his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat, so that the silver mounting 
of his wallet and the top of the Eversharp pencil showed like insignia 
of rank. With a small, distant smile he scanned the confusion of china 
and occasional tables, the giant cameo on the mauve landslide of Mrs 
Askell's chest, the haunted, pin-head eyes of Miss Geswick, Mr Bishop's 
glistening dome; and his gaze travelled on into the outer world, the 
Salisbury Hotel, the Belvedere, the pollard chestnuts along St Asaph's 
Terrace and the scarlet call-box. 

"Well, I'm just a plain Englishman," he said slowly, "and I've got 
plain English views. Fair play for all, that's what I say, and I'm not 
speaking ill of any man, no matter where he comes from, till I've got 
something proved against him." He gave a look to his wife, needing 
her overt sympathy in this emotive hour, but she had taken up her 
knitting and her eyes were on the needles. "All the same," he concluded, 
"I've got a right to my own opinion, the same as everyone else, and 
you can tell me what you please, but there's something about that 
fellow I don't like the look of, and that's the end of it with me." 

He released through his nose the breath that he found left over. 

"Oh, look," said Mrs Askell, feeling for her jumper in the corner 
of the sofa, "the sun's come out!" 

But the mystery was in some ways a disappointing one, it had the 
untidiness that spoils most of reality. The girl never played the part 
which her situation demanded: she seemed to accept the abnormal as 

187 



a standard pattern, she was neither shamefaced nor defiant, neither 
scared nor innocent, neither furtive nor loquacious. In a comradely 
fashion each of the women made some opportunity for a quiet talk 
with her, not without hope of some confidence which would have a high 
retail value; but in the broad daylight shed by her even voice what 
should have been dark hints and reluctant half-admissions were as 
boldly outlined as the signboard of a sixpenny bazaar. The puzzle some- 
how remained. She gave at once too much and too little, and they 
were left like spectators at a conjuring show, confident that everything 
is done with mirrors but not quite knowing where the mirrors can be. 

Mrs Askell got her in a corner of the lounge while Gian was out 
with the Cupwin children and told her how bad things were in the 
leather business. "I hope your husband's not connected with that trade 
at all, Mrs Ardree?" 

Armorel looked up from her darning and smiled. "No, he's not. 
He was a jet washing hand in a traction depot, but he was dismissed 
a few weeks before we were married." Her voice was the quietest in the 
room, but no one had the smallest difficulty in hearing every word. "So 
at present he's not in any trade at all." 

Sincerely grieved, Mrs Askell made kissing noises with her tongue. 
"It's terrible, putting men out of work. I suppose they were making 
room for some demobilized man?" 

"Oh, no, it was just an o.rdinary sacking. I mean, a straightforward 
case of indiscipline." 

Mrs Askell would not have pursued the matter. She was in the 
slightly embarrassing position of one who, discreetly asking for the 
loan of twopence, finds a wad of bank-notes thrust into his hand with 
the words ^I really can't think what to do with these.' But sympathy 
drove her one step further. 

"Oh, I do hope that won't stand in the way of his getting some- 
thing else?" 

"Probably it would, if one meant to be quite honest about it. I'm 
getting him a job in the building trade, I hope." 

"Oh, I think architecture is so interesting." 

Armorel quietly corrected the implication. "Oh, nothing like that 
— I mean bricklaying. That's all he could do at present. He had some 
experience of that in prison. Do tell me where you got those lovely 
beads!" 

That evening she informed Mr Bishop, who had ventured to beat 

i88 



about the financial bush, that her private income came at present to 
roughly forty pounds a year, and that she meant to look for some 
kind of domestic work. She casually told Miss Exel that the aunt with 
whom she had lived till lately had virtually refused to see her again, 
but that she was going to live with her parents-in-law for a time, ^'be- 
cause they're delightful people and I want to know them better still." 
To Mr Askell's carefully introduced remark, that he had known ex- 
traordinary cases of men being reformed by good influence^ she replied 
without ill-nature that she thought reformers were generally humbugs. 
At breakfast she was heard to say, "No, dear, nothing matters in the 
very least as long as I know you're happy." And a few minutes later, 
when Miss Geswick trapped her in a corner of the hall to exclaim with 
misted eyes, "Surely love is the most wonderful thing in the world!" 
she answered with her friendly smile and with the gentlest candour, 
"Well, you know, I never quite understand what that saying means." 

No, when every fret-sawn piece they asked for was instantly 
produced they were still unable to make a recognizable picture. And 
obviously they would get nothing out of the young man himself whose 
conversational resources were mainly limited to the phrases 'Morning!' 
'Nice day!' 'All the same to me!' and 'I reckon that's about right.' 

Not that he was exactly shy — his initial shyness had worn off 
quickly. He looked at them unflinchingly, but without a great deal of 
interest, standing against the wall with his hands in his trouser pockets 
and softly whistling. No manners at all but no ill-will. When Gracie 
stood holding the heavy tea-tray while the gentlemen scuttled about to 
clear a table and put it in the centre he would seize the tray himself 
with a brusque "Here, gimme!" and nod her out of the room, working 
the door with his heel. If Mrs Cupwin needed a light for her cigarette 
he threw her a box of matches across the room, or when Cupwin was 
handy he would rap him on the arm and say tersely, "Light for your 
missis!" With obviously kind intention he told Miss Geswick, in the 
manner of a provost corporal, that her dress was undone at the back. 
And when Mrs Askell circuitously described her husband's importance 
as manager of a wholesale firm in Nottingham he gave her a patient 
hearing before he remarked with untainted cordiality, "Well, good 
luck to him! Good enough, a sit-on-your-bum job, for a bloke with no 
body to him." He could not be quite ignored or ever patronized. They 
regarded him with discomfort and with a subtle, lingering trace of fear. 

His behaviour to his wife was in some respects the same. Generally, 

,189 



at meals, he seemed to be looking past her, and though the ladies ob- 
served him with the tireless concentration of Boer snipers they never 
caught him in a gesture of tenderness. Yet it could not be said that 
he was neglectful. Indeed, he was remarkably quick in detecting her 
practical needs. She had only to feel about her for something that 
wasn't there and he would murmur "Want y'book?" and nod per- 
emptorily and crash upstairs. If she needed pepper and the pot was 
empty he promptly marched across the room and with a casual "Lend 
us, half a jiff!" snatched one from another table. The chairs had been 
moved one morning, so that Armorel found a hard one in her place, 
while the chair with an upholstered seat which she had used at previous 
meals was now waiting for Mr Askell. Calmly, under Mrs Askell's eyes, 
Gian changed them back. When Armorel went to get her sewing after 
dinner and he arrived before her in the lounge he would stand like a 
bulldog in front of the small arm-chair she favoured there, and once, 
when Mr Cupwin tried to move it for the use of his own wife, he turned 
and said curtly "Leave that alone!" — which was enough. He seemed, 
in fact, to regard his wife as having pecuHar and absolute rights. Di- 
rectly the morning papers were brought in he strode up and seized the 
Telegraph for her before anyone else had a chance to pick. At tea he 
saw that she got her cup first, and would have no argument about it, 
when Mr Askell and certainly Mr Cupwin would have made the first 
delivery to Miss St Estwyn. Whenever Armorel wanted to leave a room 
he posted himself like a sentry to give her clear passage, and if one 
of the men through inadvertence was about to go in front of her he 
would put an unmistakable hand on the trespasser's arm. These man- 
ners, which the men regarded not without resentment, were extremely 
disturbing to Miss Exel. The other women, while they joined their 
menfolk in condemnation, reserved in their hearts sentiments not of 
unqualified disapproval. 

He was nobody's idea of a husband. A watchdog, if you liked, or 
a personal servant, though he lacked a servant's obsequious airs. Her 
treatment of him was wifely, and the other women could only admire 
its skill: she never neglected to thank him for each small service, her 
orders were all the politest requests, she was stone-blind to all his 
gaucheries. To all that delicacy he seemed unable to find the smallest 
response. She smiled and he just nodded in reply. She gave him choice 
of plans and he only shrugged his shoulders. The little gestures of eye 
or hand that a lover watches, the special movements of a woman's neck 



190 



and shoulders when one she cares for is helping her put on a jersey- 
coat, these enchantments appeared to impress him no more than a 
breeze ruffling his hair. But in his own fashion he repaid her with an 
almost ferocious loyalty. If he never studied her face he scarcely 
glanced at anyone else's. Waiting for her in the hall he seemed hardly 
to realize that others were passing by, and if they spoke to him he 
answered with a sullen brevity. He carried her things along the promen- 
ade — everything, it was a strict point with him that she should be 
empty-handed — with an air not of sufferance but of privilege, and the 
looks he shot at passers-by made many feel like footpads on the verge 
of arrest. In any small request on his own behalf he spoke to Miss Exel 
with a humble shyness, but when Armorel's comfort was concerned his 
applications had the shape of authority. The hotel, his expression and 
his stance asserted, was an object earmarked for his wife's convenience, 
like her handbag and her shoes. And the other visitors? Evidently he 
saw them as at best part of the hotel's furniture, supplying that back- 
ground of movement and chatter to which his wife would be accustomed, 
a modest setting for her graces; but principally as a corporate incubus 
to be elbowed out of her way. 

To this there were exceptions. With the Cupwins' peaky and fretful 
children he was on terms of intimate understanding which the others 
found hard to understand. Mrs Cupwin had hoped for boys; and as if 
to atone for their sex as best they could the little girls were so calami- 
tously like their father that, as someone said, you could almost see 
the pince-nez sprouting from their little dribbly beaks. Their parents 
were bringing them up with care: they were dressed all day in frocks 
which would not have looked odd at a Christmas party, they were al- 
most incessantly clean, and every attempt they made to disturb the 
North View peace, to shout, to whine, to create untidiness or demand 
their mother's attention, was met from an armoury of measured threats 
and ambiguous promises, of practiced demurrers and nimble evasions. 
The policy left a certain overflow of restlessness for someone to mop 
up, and among all the visitors (who were generous enough with casual 
affability) this husband of Mrs Ardree's alone took on the task, with 
an enthusiasm which seemed to argue some feebleness of mind. For 
long periods he lay on the floor to let the children roll about on top of 
him, take off his shoes and rake his hair. He made peculiar faces and 
what Mrs Cupwin considered dreadfully common sounds, and when 
Desiree cried "Again! again!" he repeated the performance tirelessly. 

191 



To Eileen he brought paper and scissors for cutting-out, which she 
liked to do lying on the sofa, with her legs over the pommel, or wander- 
ing with a slow dance-step about the room. He would go round after 
her, collecting the clippings in the waste-paper basket, which Desiree 
would presently get hold of to sling the contents half-way across the 
floor; then he would grin and go down on his knees and pick them up 
all over again. Once or twice Armorel ventured a hint that this treat- 
ment of children was open to certain objections: 

"You see, dear, if they get their own way every single time when 
you're amusing them they'll get to think that other people ought to 
treat them in the same way. And you see, if Desiree keeps on throwing 
waste-paper all over the place at home, when her mother's got all the 
housework to do, there's bound to be trouble and tears." 

But he seemed unable to follow that reasoning. It was remarked 
by those who were interested that the matter of the Cupwin children 
was the single one in which young Mr Ardree betrayed an inclination 
to take a line of his own. 

Miss St Estwyn was the other exception to his neutrality. 

All the others put an extra polish on their manners for the benefit 
of the dim old woman whose face and body had collapsed like the walls 
of a cheap candle, leaving only the heavily-browed eyes to suggest her 
former presence. They bowed to her in a way they had learnt from 
period films, they ran to pick up the needles and the spectacle-case 
which constantly slid down the taffeta slopes of her lap. For it was 
understood that she had been an early friend of Mrs Pankhurst and 
herself a person of some significance in her time. Perhaps Mr Ardree 
would have approached her with equal decorum had it been within his 
power; he so far lacked the means that he appeared to overlook the 
necessity; but he plainly recognized her existence as of one belonging 
to a higher order of creation than sofas and hearthrugs, his eyes oc- 
casionally strayed towards her, and on only his second morning in the 
hotel he said sharply to Mr Bishop, who was idly picking up a book 
from the lounge window-seat, "You can't have that, it belongs to the 
old girl!" By tea-time Mr Bishop had hammered the incident into one 
of his jokes: he told Askell that "Miss St Estwyn maketh the dumb 
to speak." 

She had a rubber-ferruled stick for her little walks outside, and 
kept it for safety in a dark corner of the hall behind the grandfather 
clock, where it was rather difficult to find. It became a habit of Gian's 



192 



whenever she appeared in outdoor clothes, to fetch the stick and bring 
it to her at the foot of the stairs; where he would push it into her hand, 
say "There y'are!" and slouch away. In the town one morning he saw 
a conductor trying to hurry her as she was hobbling to catch a bus; 
he left Armorel and crossed the road, lifted Miss St Estwyn bodily on 
to the platform, slung a dozen words of undiluted Kennington in the 
conductor's face and then took his stand in front of the bonnet till he 
saw that she was safely in her seat. When she came to thank him for 
this service, he did not seem to hear. And on other occasions, when he 
pulled away her table to let her out after meals, or spontaneously got 
something she wanted from upstairs, his manner was so off-hand that 
it almost looked as if he meant to insult her. 

And yet she accepted that treatment without any sign of offence, 
sometimes with a smile which it was difficult to interpret. It was won- 
derful, everyone said, how good-natured the old thing was. Perhaps a 
little too good-natured, when Mrs Askell offered to hold her wool for 
winding and she answered, "No, if you please, I'll have Mr Ardree if 
his wife can spare him — it requires such a lot of patience." But at her 
age such eccentricity was pardonable; for she was, they felt, super- 
latively English and the sister, they had been told, of a major-general's 
wife. 

One late afternoon she beckoned the young man as she sat in the 
verandah, and made him bring his chair beside hers. 

"They tell me you have been in prison recently," she said in her 
deep and friendly voice. She was not as deaf as she seemed, she had 
merely learnt in seventy-six years that very little of what people said 
was worth the trouble of listening. "I suppose the prisons are just as 
silly and shocking as they always were? No, I've never used one myself, 
but two of my nieces have been put away from time to time and they 
both speak very critically of the organization. Of course they're by 
way of being 'ladies', and 'ladies' have lots of silly fads. I make allow- 
ance for that . . . you know, you're a very fortunate man You have 
an extremely beautiful wife, beautiful and clever. She reads silly books, 
but the sort of silly books people should read at her age. I hope you're 
going to look after her very carefully?" 

He replied, more fluently than anyone but she would have expected, 
that his wife was far too good for him. 

"You see how it is," he said, "I got no means of knowin' what 
sort of things she wants. No cash neither, if it comes to that. She's gettin' 



193 



me fixed up on a job of some kind, she says. Well, a bloke do what he 
can. I mean to say, she wanted the hitch-up all right, that's the way it 
looked to me. Of course she ought to have had a silky, you don't have 
to tell me that, I can see that just as plain as the next bloke." 

"No," Miss St Estwyn said almost fiercely, "that's quite wrong! 
You must try to be sensible — you're a very sensible man indeed, only 
men never are quite sensible about their womenfolk. No, a silky 
wouldn't have suited her at all! A woman with Mrs Ardree's brains 
gets the sort of husband she ought to have — if she really needed a silky 
she'd have found one and made him marry her. Don't ever forget that! 
I've lived long enough to know what I'm talking about. Now I want 
you to move my chair, round this way, and yours this way . . . That's 
right." 

"Get the sun right in your face that way!" he warned her. "Give 
y' a bad head." 

"I know. But it's better than being where I can see all the ridicu- 
lous people in this hotel. I want to look at your hands. Of course I'm 
an old maid, I suppose that's why I like looking at men's hands. You've 
got really splendid hands, so strong." She smiled and actually caught 
him smiling. "That's a thing you hardly ever find in a silky, the beauty 
of strong and useful hands. You must always make your wife realize 
how good they are, how useful and how firm and beautiful, these hands 
of yours." She chuckled, so that when he had passed through his sur- 
prise he was forced to smile again as he watched the many folds of her 
dilapidated face in the bright, sloped sunshine, the young, defiant 
eyes. "How lucky — what a wickedly lucky girl! Having such a lovely 
body and a man with glorious hands! " 

It was only on the last afternon of their stay that the old woman 
had any but the most casual conversation with Armorel herself. She 
found her alone in the lounge, writing, when Gian had taken the chil- 
dren to see MacAndrew's Curiosities, and she took a seat close beside 
her. 

"Too aggravating!" she said presently. "You thought you had 
found an hour's peace to get on with your letters, and now this old 
person comes in and starts chattering." 

Armorel smiled and closed her writing pad. 

"I'd always much rather chatter. These are only business letters." 

Miss St Estw)m nodded approvingly. "In every family the woman 
ought to do all the business. Men think they understand business: they 
have phrases they like the sound of — you know, 'glad if you will pro- 



194 



ceed in accordance with the terms of your quotation,' that sort of thing 
— and that makes them a prey to all the rogues in the world. It takes 
a woman to grasp the great philosophic truth that if you take a pound 
out of a stocking the stocking holds one pound less than it did before." 

"Well, perhaps so. But I mean my husband to do all the business 
as soon as he knows how." 

"You're teaching him?" 

"I shall. But of course I can only take things slowly. He's got 
everything to learn." 

"Everything? I should have thought he knew more about some 
things than you and I ever shall know." 

"You mean—?" 

"Well, what life is like before it has been soaked in sauce and 
sprinkled with bread crumbs." 

"Oh, of course. No, I only meant that he's had practically no 
schooling, never been anywhere, no technical education of any kind." 

"And you're going to get him all that?" 

Armorel nodded. "By degrees." She spread her left hand on her 
knee and examined her rings, the gold one and the one with the huge 
synthetic ruby. "Of course we've practically no money, but we shall 
both be in work — a friend of mine is getting him a job in a construc- 
tional firm. I've already paid the fee for the course he's taking in 
elementary building technology. That may put him into a slightly better 
position, and then I think I'll be able to get him a rather more advanced 
course — " 

"You mean, really, that you want to get him into something better 
than a labourer's job? Something you do in a collar and tie?" 

"Do you think that's absurdly ambitious?" 

It appeared unlikely that Miss St Estwyn would reply. As a kitten 
quivering with the ardour of a protracted stalk will suddenly relax 
and start to wash itself, so, when her expressive mouth was already 
shaping for an answer, her interest seemed all at once to fade. Her eyes 
had turned from Armorel's face towards the window, to hunt some 
ghost along the windy, makeshift street. She had known so many 
women and their belongings, their hard-wrought attitudes, their men, 
their anxious clothes; she was too tired now to remember how the 
pieces were supposed to fall. But at length she did speak again. 

"No," she said negligently, "I only wonder whether it's worth the 
cost. The cost to him, I mean," 

Armorel said slowly: "Yes, I expect anyone would ask that. Any- 



195 



one who doesn't know him as I do. Well, that means everyone, really. 
You see, when a man's never learnt any form of self-expression at all — 
when he's merely been chucked into the first roughneck job that comes 
along, just treated like a mill-horse by the people who employ him and 
like a cross between a lunatic and a criminal by everyone else — ^well, 
he doesn't realize himself that he's got anything inside him, and it 
stands to reason that no one else can either. Not unless they happen to 
notice odd little things. You'd never imagine that Gian had any ideas 
about architectural design. Well, of course, he hasn't, in the formal 
sense. In the practical sense, he has — ideas and instincts that no one 
else's ever bothered to look for. It's all there, but it hasn't grown be- 
cause the ground's never been tilled. You know, people give their whole 
lives to a few acres of soil, cleaning it up and making it yield its rich- 
ness. Well, surely a human being's worth as much trouble as that." 

Her English voice, not meant for urgency, had gradually slipped 
a little. She brought it back into its groove. 

"Of course he needs everything, and I haven't got such an awful 
lot to give him. I've got a certain amount of intelligence, that's about 
all. Still, when I start a thing I don't give it up. That's what's going 
to count in the end." 

Miss St Estwyn had begun the process of gathering her things 
together; she could never sit very long in the same place. She stood 
up, trying her balance like a sea-lion, smiling obscurely at her own 
reflection in the mirror on the wall. 

"Yes," she said, "there are things he needs," and she started her 
progress towards the door. "He needs love — really a very great amount 
of love." 

Armorel slipped ahead to open the door for her ; and having gently 
closed it again returned to her letter: ". . . may be living at Contessa 
Street at any rate for a few weeks, if I feel that Gian's mother really 
has room for us — there are three storeys and Gian says there are quite 
a lot of rooms. I feel so strongly that he will be far more comfortable 
with me when he sees that I am quite at home in his own surroundings. 
I do think your Henry has been good about the job. I promise that 
Gian will work his hardest and make it a success ..." 

The fracas with the Cupwins occurred towards the end of their 
stay. Since a storm in the tea-cup you live in is bound to be disturbing, 

196 



the affair was a little more disagreeable than Armorel's reference in 
her diary reveals. 

Mrs Cupwin had been indoors all day, partly because of the rain 
and partly to finish an Ideal Marriages competition from which she 
hoped to win £250. She sat smoking, knees wide apart, with photographs 
of the Stars and an entry form spread out on her lap. On the other 
side of the lounge her husband was noisily asleep with his head on last 
Sunday's People, the windows were all shut and her head was aching. 

Eileen was being good. She had stopped begging to be taken to the 
beach and lay on her front near the door, drawing many-petalled 
flowers on the title page of a Play box Anntcal and rather monotonously 
humming the air of Daisy had a Dandy. Desiree, left without employ- 
ment, was making a leisurely tour of the room, jigging the ornaments 
on the cabinet, teasing the blind-tassels, spinning a castor on an up- 
turned chair. In less than an hour she had asked her mother three 
times whether there would be Grape Nuts for supper; to which Mrs 
Cupwin had answered on the first occasion that she did not know, 
on the second that Desiree was to keep quiet and not be a worry, on 
the third that if she asked the question once more she would get a good 
slap. The warning was unambiguous: it is hard to believe that the child 
did not understand it. 

This background was unknown to Gian. Returning from an abortive 
walk towards Hawkes Cliff, he came into the lounge just as Desiree, on 
the completion of her circuit, was quietly running her fingers round the 
panel moulding of the door which led to the dining-room. He was smil- 
ing at Eileen, and rolling her over with his foot, when Desiree said in a 
tiny voice, without turning round: 

"Mummy, do you think there's going to be Grape Nuts for 
supper?" 

Mrs Cupwin in one swift movement gathered up all the papers 
from her lap and put them on to the arm of her chair. She said: 

"Desiree! Come here!" 

Accustomed to obey that tone (for she had once tried the experi- 
ment of ignoring it) Desiree went to her; slowly, thoughtfully, but to 
outward appearance trustingly. Mrs Cupwin's mouth made a little smile 
of a curious kind. She glanced obliquely at Gian, and it may have 
passed through a corner of her mind that she was giving him a demon- 
stration some time overdue. She waited till the child was close to her, 



197 



then pounced on her wrist and slapped her hand with a good deal of 
force. 

Perhaps three seconds passed before Desiree let out her first wail. 
(In that interval the worst of the physical pain was probably over.) 
There was time, before the noise began, for Mrs Cupwin to add her 
footnote, "You know what I said!" and for Gian, white, stiff and 
trembling, to reach her chair. Gian said: 

"You got no fumin' right to hit a kid like that!" 

Mrs Cupwin did not reply. The phosphorescent rage in Gian's voice 
gave her the same kind of shock that the blow had given the child, and 
his eyes, as he stood over her, made her more frightened than she had 
ever been in her life. Her husband did answer. The sound of the slap 
had roused him, he had caught Gian's obscene adjective and realized 
that it was addressed to his wife. From his position he could not see 
Gian's face and he was not frightened at all. He stood up, and raising 
his thin voice to overcome the uproar which Desiree was making, he 
said with all the force that indignation could gather from his narrow- 
chested body: 

"Here, that's enough of that!" 

The second shock, from hearing her father speak in such a tone, 
brought Desiree to a heaving silence; while Eileen, still on the floor, 
gazed at the grown-ups' singular behaviour with a petrified curiosity 
in which there was a faint tingle of delight. 

"What do you mean by it," Cupwin fumed, "talking to my wife 
that way! Language like that!" His voice, as Gian turned towards him, 
lost a little of its ring, but he had enough impetus left to carry him on. 
"Time you were back where you come from — I don't know what 
they're thinking of, having the sweepings off the slums in a house like 
this, meant for decent respectable folk!" 

Mrs Cupwin, recovering her nerve, said: "I suppose I'm not fit to 
bring up my own child!" 

Gian answered: "No, you ain't!" 

Cupwin said: "I'd like you just to repeat that!" 

"She ain't fit to have nothin' to do with any kid," Gian said. 

To that point the situation had developed when Armorel came in. 
She grasped it instantly. It was not difficult to know all about the 
Cupwins, and the spectacle gave her clues enough: the two men facing 
each other, Gian smiling as he waited with a dangerous patience for 
Cupwin to hit him, Cupwin feeling about for a mask of dignity and 



muttering that he'd a good mind to put the matter in Miss Exel's hands. 
But if a resume was needed, Mrs Cupwin in her own fashion supplied 
it. She spoke rather fast on one high, sHghtly unnatural note: 

"Perhaps you'd like this room to yourselves, Mrs Ardree, you 
and your husband? I think your husband thinks I and my husband 
aren't quite fit to be in the same room with him — we're people who 
aren't fit to bring up our own children, so it seems. I suppose the chil- 
dren never do get slapped in Bethnal Green, or whatever part your 
husband comes from. Little tiny touch that wouldn't hurt a kitten! I 
suppose they can make themselves a plague all day long and no one 
says a word to them. What some may call upbringing, I don't doubt, 
only there are some who don't much care for the results, only judging 
by what they see." 

"Gian," said Armorel, "would you be a dear and run along to 
the post office before it shuts. I meant to get some three-halfpenny 
stamps — you'll find half a crown on the dressing-table." She waited 
till he was out of the room and then said, "I'm sorry, I interrupted you. 
You were saying — ?" 

"What Fm saying," Cupwin interjected, "is that I'm not going to 
have Mrs Cupwin insulted in this hotel, and that's flat!" 

"Yes, and if you find Mr Cupwin smashing your husband's face in 
for him," his wife added, "you needn't come laying the blame on me! 
He's got plenty of patience, my husband has, but when it comes to 
having guttersnipes putting their tongue out at him, that's trying him 
a bit too high!" 

Desiree, standing scared and forlorn by the cabinet, had started to 
whimper again. Armorel, turning her back on the Cupwins, knelt on one 
knee beside her. "Desiree, is your hand still hurting?" She took 
Desiree's hand in hers, but the child, crying "No! No!" snatched 
it away. 

"You'll kindly leave that child alone!" Mrs Cupwin snapped, and 
her husband echoed, "You leave her alone!" 

This broadside appeared to finish the battle. The young wife 
stiffened as with a sudden and violent pain, she turned to glance at the 
avenging pair with eyes that seemed to be blinded by their fire, and 
then without a word went to the door. There, however, she turned 
again, and stood smiling with her fingers on the handle. 

"Listen!" she said, and the calm of her voice surprised them. "If 
Mr Cupwin wants to give my husband a thrashing I don't see any 



199 



objection at all. Only I hope you'll let me watch, because it ought to 
be interesting. Or if he thinks it would be simpler to make a fuss with 
the proprietress — well, I can't object to that. All / shall do in that ^ase 
is to make an equal amount of fuss with the N.S.P.C.C. And in the 
meantime I don't really want to hear anything more from either of you 
till you've got yourselves under control." 

The door had very gently closed behind her before they thought 
of any reply. 

Superficially, the results of the skirmish were negligible. The 
Cupwins ceased to say 'Good-morning' to the Ardrees, they discovered 
ostentatiously that they and the children needed a walk whenever Mr 
Ardree or his wife entered the lounge. There were consequences reach- 
ing further in time, a small but perceptible change in the attitude of 
the Cupwin children towards their parents and of the parents towards 
each other. But those mutations had to adjust themselves in one of 
the new estates on the outskirts of Bristol, many miles away from the 
North View Hotel. 

To Armorel it gave a heightened sense of her powers: she had met 
with trouble slightly different from any she had envisaged and handled 
it with success: but it gave her also a new conception of the magnitude 
of her task. In the talk she and Gian had that evening, gentle and 
good-humoured on her part, laconic on his, he had shown himself not 
only blind to Mrs Cupwin 's point of view but unable to conceive as 
possible a world of sensibilities differing from his own: and in one 
moment of cold despair, when he sat on the edge of the bed staring 
woodenly at an evening paper and repeating the very words he had 
used ten minutes before, she felt as Annie Sullivan may have done when 
Helen Keller first came into her care. But if the mountain looked higher 
from the foothills than from the plain there was still no limit, she 
thought, to her muscle and wind. 

The great thing, [she wrote to Daphne Steaben next morning] 
is never to lose your nerve. One's intelligence will do everything 
that's wanted — in time — so long as one doesn't let it collapse in a 
fit of the shakes. We go to Contessa Street tomorrow, and then 
I shall be in it up to my neck. It's so frightening that I feel joy- 
ously excited ... 

After all, people pay money for the experience of danger. They 
cling to each other screaming with fright as the scenic railway cars 



200 



make the first vertiginous plunge and five minutes later they are queue- 
ing up to pay their shillings for another ride. But the perils belonging 
to reality are not so nicely measured out; in reality the tensions go on, 
ugliness takes new forms to turn the stomach by catching you unawares, 
danger like the rub of an ill-fitting shoe is a dire familiarity which 
attenuates endurance, to snap it perhaps at the moment of maximum 
strain. 

Danger? Fear? When she looked back across the twelve years to 
the first days of her marriage such words as those would seem grandilo- 
quent and false. Yet her physical sensations, as the train settled to its 
homeward stride, as the sprawl of villas and workshops thickened to 
obliterate the Essex fields, were precisely those of fear: a draught 
through the loins, bubbles in her throat on which a word or two would 
slip and tumble. From there North View, with its incessant calls on her 
tact and contrivance, looked like a harbour which no storm had eve^ 
reached, the last nine days a season of untrammelled contentment. For 
a time, at least, her memory would keep securely a few scraps of that 
sharply-lit experience: a strip of sunlight across the blue quilt, sand on 
the linoleum, the routine of absurd, grave courtesies: and she realized 
already, with the grimed houses of Forest Gate crowding past the 
window, that the feeling those shreds recalled would be one of safety, 
of safety starting to leak. 

She was pinioned in her corner of the carriage, which was full 
and nauseous with smoke. Gian, pressed up against her, sat staring bale- 
fully at a sailor who had given her a casual grin, and she was surprised 
when he suddenly turned to look at her face. 

"Something on your mind?" he asked. 

She smiled. "I was only thinking, it's a bit hard on your mother, 
having a daughter-in-law thrust into her house like this." 

He considered that remark with lowered brows, as if he were really 
trying to imagine thoughts and happenings outside his present ex- 
perience. He said at length, off-handedly : 

"You don't need to worry your head. Miss Susie. ]\Ium, you see, 
she take things the way they come." 

His eyes had returned to the sailor's face, but his hand slid cau- 
tiously between the back of the seat and her waist; reminding her, in a 
moment of distress, of a journey to the other Stratford she had made 
with Gordon Aquillard. "It's stuffy, isn't it!" she said, and the hand 
slid back to its place. The train ran screaming through Bethnal Green, 



201 



the funereal faces swung in unison as it lurched across the Shoreditch 
points and the dark chaos of Liverpool Street gathered to hold it fast. 



19 



B 



EFORE the door to the back room was opened the smell of tomato 
ketchup came out into the shop. The noise of forks and of laughter 
drowned the squeak of the door, and no one looked up when they went 
inside. The weak bulb which hung near the dresser was already turned 
on, for the closed windows resisted the dwindling daylight and the 
room was clouded with smoke. 

Ed Hugg sitting sideways to the table was reading the outside 
sheet of the Star. Rosie's baby was on Simon's knee, where Rosie fiddled 
with its wrappings, and at the other end a man with strange growths 
on his face and neck tried to tempt it with sugar melted in his teaspoon. 
The laughter came chiefly from Maria, who with her face to the com- 
pany was stirring a saucepan on the range with one hand and wiping 
the sweat from her forehead with the other; but a tiny desiccated 
woman at the farther side was laughing too, shaking so much that she 
could not get her cup back on the saucer and from time to time relieving 
her mirth with a piercing squeal, which the florid man beside her ac- 
companied with resounding slaps on his thighs and a chain of snorts 
like a locomotive going uphill. The grey, stained table-cloth was loaded 
with pickle and ketchup jars, jars of chutney and mayonnaise, bottles 
of vinegar and Daddy's Sauce. 

Gian, still holding two suitcases and with Armorel beside him, 
stood patiently just inside the door. It was Ed who first saw him and 
called out, ''Coo, it's Gyan — Gyan, how are you, boy!" Then stillness 
came, the utter stillness which comes upon a room when the whistle 
is heard of a bomb falling. 

Maria recovered first. Still with the spoon in her hand she rushed 
upon her son, put her arms round his body as far as they would go 
and held him to her breast, laughing tearfully and plunging one wet 
kiss after another upon his mouth. The rest came round, they shook 
his hands, they struck him on the shoulders and behind, crying, 



202 



"Cheerio, Gyan boy, how does it feel!" while Rosie held Evangeline's 
face against his neck. But the weight of his agonized shyness crushed 
their welcome and the scattered silence flooding back rose up to hold 
them where they stood. 

They knew that they had to do something about Gian's wife, but 
they could only look at her sidelong, each hoping that someone else 
would act or speak. She stood wearing a smile that had begun to pinch, 
she said in a voice she hardly recognized: "I'm afraid we've come 
back at a dreadfully awkward time!" But no one answered her, no one 
could think of a word to say. 



20 



M 



o, the honeymon had given her no cause for self-reproach. That 
was how she had felt as they humped their baggage from the Elephant 
to Contessa Street; and years later, when she was turning out boxes 
for the move from their Weald Street home and an old tie of Gian's 
sent her thoughts back to the North View Hotel, her judgement was the 
same. In those first days she had aimed at limited objectives: to 
acclimatize herself to things that would offend her delicacy (his gross- 
ness in digestion, his habit of lighting a cigarette before he got out of 
bed) by making her wish in these physical matters wholly subservient 
to his; to give him confidence in her and in himself; to perfect her own 
knowledge of him. Perhaps she had not entirely achieved the last of 
these. Seeing him asleep and waking, learning all his gestures as he 
shaved and dressed and ate his meals, discovering what things would 
interest, amuse or anger him, she was always conscious of some room to 
which she had no key. But perhaps, after all, that room was empty. 
Circumstances had furnished her own house richly; it might be wrong 
to suppose that every corner of another's was filled. She said to him, on 
the night when Antonia was conceived : 

"You enjoyed the hohday, didn't you, Gian?" 
He answered drowsily: "Yes, I reckon that was all right." 
A little afterwards, when she thought he had fallen asleep, he said 
with his head turned away: "You know, Susie, I'll get things the best 

203 



way I can for you. A place of your own, some sort of a place, soon as 
I earn any chink. Do the best I can." 

She told him, letting his forehead rest against her side, that he was 
never to be anxious about her comfort; that he should work only to 
make the best of his own gifts, that he must be patient, remembering 
that the early stages were always laborious and dull. "You know, Gian, 
I'll never lose my faith in you." (And surely — as she stood at the 
window looking at the familiar Weald Street houses and waiting for 
the remover's van — she had never lost faith in his power to advance.) 
"And you know, even the early stages won't be so desperately hard, 
with me there to help you. We can do such a lot together, I can explain 
all sorts of things ..." 

But his thoughts did not seem to be marching with hers. In this 
house where all the sounds and smells which penetrated the gimcrack 
walls were those he had lived with from childhood it was he who ap- 
peared, just then, to be lonely and afraid. Her voice had not been 
quite free from tears; for in their strange country the whole of her 
existence was narrowed to her hopes of Gian, and at a moment of such 
fatigue her calm was overstrained by his dreadful importance. Those 
tears must have frightened him, in the way that young children are 
frightened by some look in the mother's face which they do not under- 
stand. He murmured something, and she caught the words ". . . know 
it weren't right." Then she could only say, "Aren't you happy, Gian? 
Nothing's wrong if only you're happy," wondering with the swift mind 
of weariness what the shape of happiness could be in one of his 
simplicity. She put her hand in his (remembering what Gordon would 
have wanted) but he held it only as a sensitive child will hold the body 
of a bird he has killed in thoughtless mischief. 

In the smaller room to which Gian's parents had moved (the room 
previously used by Mr Olleroyd) Simon was telling his wife that he 
thought Gian had changed already. "More grown-up, see what I mean. 
More hold on himself, see what I mean." Maria, with most of her face 
in the pillow, gave out that laugh of hers which had nothing to do with 
comedy. "SsussI Why would you tsink! Gian? — a married man, tsassis 
what Gian is now! Aa — but he still issis mother's own lil-ragazzo!" 
And in the room next to theirs the Huggs were talking at the bottom 
of their voices so as not to wake Evangeline. "... All right then, have 
it your own way, she is pretty. Only what she'll be like after Gian's 
had her a year or two ..."". . . Oh, yes, quite the little bloody 



204 



gent he is now. Delahtjul holidah, mah dear fellah! Pass the potatahs 
to mah wahj, there's a good fellah/ Mah wahf's secuahed me quaht a 
decent appointment as a bricklayer, doncherknowah . . ," 

Yes, it was clear in distant retrospect that the plan of starting in 
Contessa Street was the one which had been miscalculated. But her rea- 
sons still seemed to have been sound enough. She had wanted his 
evolution to be as natural as it could. When work and study were 
making unprecedented demands on his patience it would not be fair 
to burden him with the embarrassment of new surroundings and an 
altogether new way of living. 

"Besides," she had said, "I think your mother would be disap- 
pointed if we didn't accept her invitation. Of course we'll start straight 
away and keep on looking for a home that's within our means. But 
we've got to make sure of our income first, don't you think? You know 
I'm perfectly certain that the man with real intelligence who's ready 
to put everything he's got into the job will do better work in brick- 
laying than the man next him. So much better that it'll show, I 
mean ..." 

The trouble was that Contessa Street proved a poorer vehicle for 
companionship than she had supposed. 

The narrow house, built originally for the manager of Dibdin's 
Cooperage, was a storey higher than its neighbours. In the 'nineties, 
when a certain Albert Moldenhauer had bought it and converted the 
front room into a harness shop, there had been an L-shaped yard at the 
back which belonged to the Roundel of Ely in Eton Street. Molden- 
hauer had taken over the yard and filled a great part of it with sheds of 
varying construction which had since been used as store-rooms, chicken- 
houses, and even as impromptu bedrooms for the lodgers whose plight 
and whose shillings Maria could never refuse. In time he had acquired 
the Roundel itself, when it had lost its licence and was going for a 
song, and had connected the two properties by an ingenious closed 
bridge of his own design and partly of his own workmanship He had 
also joined one of the sheds to the Contessa Street house as an extra 
back room and built another room above it, to be reached from the 
bridge, but he had not thought of enlarging the original stairway or 
making a new one. In 19 12 the freehold had passed to his son, Ernest 
Molinar, and at about that time the Roundel portion had been sentenced 
to destruction. While it lasted, however, Maria as lessee saw no objec- 



205 



tion to using those rooms in which the floors were tolerably safe for 
any purpose that from time to time occurred to her active intelligence. 
She liked to go through that way to Eton Street, where she did some 
of her shopping, and it was a route often taken by friends who came 
to see her. 

She was not lacking in friends, for she was a good listener and her 
singular combination of lethargy and vivacity had a tonic property for 
those who suffered from melancholy or boredom. Indeed, her regular 
customers were all her intimates. During shop hours, which were never 
precisely limited, the chair by the glass-panelled biscuit chest was 
seldom without an occupant, generally a woman some way past the 
years of personal vanity, who would wait contentedly while chance 
customers were served and then pick up the conversation at the point 
where it had been broken. Often, when Maria decided to close the shop 
in order to rake a meal together or to feed her hens, she would transfer 
the visitor to the kitchen-living-room in the way that a later generation 
carries the wireless set from one room to another: she liked to have 
voices about her when she was cooking or washing, even when she was 
killing a chicken, which in itself was one of her keenest pleasures; she 
was always pleased to find that someone had come in through the 
Roundel and was waiting for her in the second back room. Simon also 
had his friends, former shipmates, fellow tradesmen from the halls, 
who never minded waiting. Occasionally^ dejected and slightly furtive 
people came to ask for Mr Olleroyd and were directed across the bridge 
to his present room. And while the Huggs were staying in the house 
(which seemed likely to be for a long time, since Ed was making useful 
'contacts') there were girlhood friends of Rosie's coming in to admire 
her child and talk about their boys. The place, then, had the feeling less 
of a house than a railway station. Maria was not English and had learnt 
no prejudice about homes and castles. She required no boundaries, 
she even disliked them. As her shop was a continuation of Contessa 
Street itself, her kitchen was a continuation of the shop. For the re- 
sultant congestion of the kitchen the remedies supplied by Molden- 
hauer were always to hand: people could overflow into the second 
back room or if necessary to a shed which had been empty since she had 
given up breeding Belgian hares; pans waiting to be scoured and clothes 
to be ironed could be put on the stairs, and if the stairs were choked 
the corridor above could take the superfluity. In the fact that most of 
the rooms were passages to others Maria saw no disadvantage. It ac- 

206 



corded with her intuitive notions of freedom. She eluded the tyrannies 
of time as successfully as those of space, letting instinct and necessity 
divide her day as they would. Of a dozen clocks in the house the only 
one with its machinery in working order was without a minute hand. 
In this field of liberty the newly married pair were not left much 
to themselves. Even the bedroom which Maria and Simon had gen- 
erously surrendered gave them only a limited privacy. The little room 
to which it led was uninhabited, but Maria still kept some of her 
clothes there, together with shop stores, cleaning tools and a certain 
amount of food for the hens. Whenever she had to go through at night 
or in the earliest morning she did so with prodigious tact, handling the 
stiff latch of the door like a burglar, creeping as softly as her fifteen 
stone allowed and keeping her eyes towards the wall; but the exercise 
so worked upon her nerves that she seldom completed it without a burst 
of laughter, to be followed by torrents of confused apology, a plunge 
towards her son and a noisy kiss on both his cheeks. Under the threat 
of these incursions every conversation was inclined to be anxious and 
hurried, like the plotting of conspirators in a house infested with police. 
Museums, parks and cafes were still the only places where their com- 
panionship was in any way secured. 

To all appearances Armorel was at home. She showed no surprise 
at food appearing on half-washed plates, at Simon's table customs or 
the things which were done to Evangeline between the dining-table and 
the range. She seemed to accept the whole of Maria's economy, only 
mitigating its worst effects by deft adjustments, surreptitiously opening 
windows, clearing a top layer of rubbish into the yard, creeping down 
late at night to scrub out the room. It was Gian who appeared at sea. 
The look of strain which had showed on the night of their arrival hardly 
lifted. Trivial features of daily life — the way that Simon cleared his 
tubes after eating, oblique witticisms about the underclothes drying on 
a line across the kitchen — set him glancing nervously at Armorel's face. 
He spoke very little, and less to his family than to his wife, though he 
found soft, shy grins for Maria whenever he caught her alone. To Ed's 
incessant jocularity about his new status, to Rosie's tiny, silken sar- 
casms ("Very kind, your missis is, giving me hints about my baby, 
very good of her to spare the time!") his answer was a sullen stare 
(though once, when Ed went so far as to couple Armorel's name with 
a sly obscenity, there was such a tightening in his body that Ed found 



207 



it convenient to stroll out of doors). People who had known the house- 
hold for some time remarked to Simon that his son did not seem him- 
self. "That lad of yours," old Vincent the cobbler said, "he's got such 
a dainty dish it give him the whole-time bellyache." And even Maria, 
who regarded English weather and English moods with a tolerance 
hardly short of amaurosis, noticed the change. 

On a Sunday morning when Simon stood in the yard, staring 
despondently at the little plot of clay and cinders which he always 
hoped would become a flower-bed, she came and stood beside him, hold- 
ing under her arm a cockerel she had chosen for execution. 

"Magnifico — allse lovly bloom!" 

She pointed to the few tired leaves lying amid the groundsel, 
uttered a squeal of laughter and pinched his cheek. 

"I reckon they done me down over the seed," he answered. "Ted 
Eeley got it, he reckoned it was all right." 

She nodded: "You are good garden-man, Simon, ifse give you good 
seed, good ert' — 'njussa tiny-tiny-tiny piece of brain, sisi?" She laughed 
again and put the cockerel's feathers against her cheek. The job in hand 
was one she liked to do at leisure and with loving attention to a ritual 
of her own; having caught her bird she would fondle and talk to it, she 
would hold it at arm's length, laughing, and show it off to its fellows, 
telling them of the beauty and agony of death. "You tell me, Simon," 
she said suddenly, "Gian — why isse not happy? Tsegirl — Miss Susie — 
you tsink she will not go to bed, hn?" 

He stooped to pull out a weed. Though he refused to believe that 
any trait in Maria was an absolute imperfection he disliked her direct 
approach to matters of importance. In his last years at sea he had never 
uttered the word 'torpedo', believing that this was the way to keep you 
clear of them, and his faith in that policy had scarcely lessened when 
he had been torpedoed twice in seventeen months. He said cautiously: 

"The lad's all right, nothing wrong with him, not that I can see. 
He got to get used to it, that's all. Been a good boy, see, never had 
nothing to do with skirts, he tell me that quite straightforward, nobody 
but that freak from Biddle's Place, and he can't have meant no harm 
by her. You got to get used to it, same as everything else." 

With a firm hand on the cockerel's neck she stroked its breast with 
her forehead. She was not listening. She seldom listened to Simon, 
whose English — she complained to her friends — was very bad; but she 
picked up the sense of what he said whenever she felt inclined. 

208 



"You tsink she lov Gian?" she demanded. "I tsink he lov her 
vereverevere moch." 

But he in his turn evaded the issue. "You see, Maria, it's not Hke 
what she's been accustomed. You see how it is. I'm not saying the 
place isn't all right. I'm not saying it isn't run very nice, having the 
shop on your hands and everything, you can't expect a house to be 
run the way a ship is. Well, you see how it is, I might see Ted Eeley 
sometime, see what he might get them serviette things, make her feel 
like what she's been accustomed. I'm not denying it's a lot of fish-an'- 
fancy, but that's the way it is. First-class saloon, passengers all get 
them serviettes, clean every meal. Second-class, clean every two days — 
all the big lines." 

His tone told her again that he was saying nothing worth her 
attention. 

'^You tsink I speak?" she demanded. "I tell Miss Susie she mus' 
go vereverevere kine wis my ragazzo? I tell her, you go to bed, you 
makse good wife, hn?" 

"Well, no," he said, "you leave it to me, I'll talk to her. I know 
how they talk, see — I done first-class serving, times they was short on 
staff in the old Semiramis, I done it on the Singapore run, too — I know 
the kind of talk they use, folk in that way of life." He started to move 
towards the house, he couldn't bear to see anything killed. He said 
over his shoulder, "You do better and leave it to me." 

That undertaking gave him two anxious days in which his friends 
at the Warwick Palace found him curiously silent and abstracted. Not 
altogether unhappy days, for he was conscious of dormant powers which 
he believed would rally to the cause of his son's well-being. At night, 
as he walked from the theatre to the tube, stirred by the cold air, the 
moving lights and the equalizing darkness, his mind lit up as if a match 
were applied to shavings and dry wood. Words came to him like manna; 
the jewels of Miss Braddon's art, once tumbled from seamen's libraries 
into the dark recesses of his memory, rose to the surface like new crea 
tions of his own brave spirit. Yes, he would speak to Gian's wife. He 
would approach her not as a suppHant but as a person of equal rights 
and equal dignity demanding justice. She might very well suppose that 
in giving herself to a ipan of humbler status she had done him a favour ; 
ah, but humility was often a disguise for nobility of spirit, and the day 
might come when the name Ardree would be one which the highest in 



209 



the land would sigh for. Let her ask herself, then, what was her duty. 
What was the duty of any woman who had pledged herself in the sight 
of God and man? Could she be content to enjoy the fruits of the mar- 
ried state, the honour, the security, while the man who had given her 
these benefits was languishing sick at heart? He bought a threepenny 
ticket and went on into the lift, unconscious of the crowd shoving him 
into the corner, the vast, steely eyes of the girl on the other wall pro- 
claiming, 'I've found Romance since I learnt the Ida Rossignon Way.' 
"I address you," he said, all but aloud, "with the passion of a man 
deeply wronged, with the authority of a father. I speak kindly now. 
But let me once be satisfied that my son has been treated with con- 
tempt, his happiness sacrificed to a woman's vanity and whim, and 
neither womanhood nor pity shall restrain my arm." Yet pity was not 
outside his thoughts as the train carried him northward. In the window, 
where the grey pipes rose and fell above his own reflection, he saw 
scenes of noble forgiveness and reconciliation; of Miss Susie embrac- 
ing his knees, the tender gratitude of Gian, Maria's eyes shining upon 
him with wonder and admiration. But first, he thought, his mind chilling 
a little as he turned into Newington Causeway, I must get her alone. 

Half-way through a five-week season he had not to be at the 
theatre before ten, and on a morning when he came down for his break- 
fast at nine o'clock he found Armorel washing Evangeline's napkins. 
Maria was serving shop and the Huggs were in their own room, Olleroyd 
had already gone out "to try for a bit of luck" as his formula was. 
Armorel said without looking round, "I'll do your bacon in one minute 
— I just want to rinse these through." He walked deliberately to the 
sink and stood beside her. It was the wrong moment, he realized that 
now; the fire was not alight in him; but having got so far he would not 
retreat. 

"Now listen, Miss Susie, I'd like to have a few words with you if 
you don't mind." He was perfectly calm, he thought, and yet his heart 
had begun to hammer, sending up a wind on which his words shook and 
bounced. "Now I know right well that this is not the sort of house 
which you been accustomed," he said skilfully, looking round at the 
litter of unwashed china, clothes and shop stores which covered the 
tables and most of the floor. "You see the way it is, things is very uncer- 
tain in the theatre business, chap may be earning a bit one month, show 
crack up, no sort of work the next. Well, it isn't as if people got all that 
money to spend, no munitions or anything, it's not like a running a shop 



210 



before the war. Of course I reckon I could clean the place up a bit, only 
Maria, you see, she like to have things the way she put them, seeing 
they do things different in the part she was brought up in as you might 
say." 

His voice was settling, and he was moving steadily towards the 
kernel of his argument. But she interrupted: 

"You know, Papa Simon, I think it's so terribly sweet of you and 
Madre to have us here. Especially when you've got Ed and Rosie on 
your hands as well. And giving us your own bedroom. It's making all 
the difference, having time to look round for a home of our own." 

"Well, as I was saying," he continued, "I reckon that lad of mine 
would want to look after you proper, the best way he know how. Mind 
you, he's not what you'd call highly educate. Me being away sailoring, 
away two years together maybe, Maria, she had to do the best she 
know how, not knowing nothing about English ways of schooling and 
such. All the same — " 

"That's what I want to do for him," she said seriously. "Of course 
I've hardly any money, but I do know my way about — I mean, I know 
something about education, I've got friends who are teachers and so on. 
It's just a matter of patience. He's really getting down to this technical 
course now. Of course he does find it frightfully hard — he's never been 
taught how to use his full powers of concentration. But that's where I 
can do a good deal to help him — " 

"Well, you got to understand," he said with what he thought was 
some firmness, "a boy get to eighteen or thereabouts, something like 
a grown man, as you might say, and he feels it's past the time for 
schooling. Come to working, that's a different thing. Gian, he ain't 
afraid of hard work." 

"Or of hard study!" she said, smiling. "I'm sure he hasn't got any 
silly notion about it being undignified to learn anything after you've 
grown up." 

She put the last napkin on the pile, ready for wringing, cut the 
rind from two rashers of bacon and started to fry them. It was the way 
that women had: possessing no power to argue they could always cover 
their weakness with manual fuss, clattering things about. Still stand- 
ing, he tried once again. 

"I mean to say, all I want is to see the boy happy. What I mean 
to say — " 

"I think we agree about everything!" she answered. 



211 



Maria called from the shop, ^'Si-monef Somebody 'ave movese 
Wright soapsetis underse Quaker!" and simultaneously a wail broke out 
overhead from which Ed's infuriated voice emerged, ^'I tell you, I didn't 
even touch the bloody kid!" Simon took the plate which his daughter- 
in-law handed him and sat down. When Maria asked him that evening 
if he had tackled Miss Susie he replied that he had got the whole situa- 
tion summed up and would talk to the girl again later on. He must 
manage things his own way, he said. 

His own way would be to consult Gian himself ; and that again was 
not easy, for the boy had to leave early to get to his job over at Ham- 
mersmith, he was at evening classes three times a week and on other 
evenings rarely out of Miss Susie's sight. If only there were one room 
where he could get the boy to himself ! Simon was not dissastisfied with 
his home, even if it was not the one he had dreamed of through many 
voyages: it was a plain marvel, he thought, the way Maria kept things 
going, the way there was always something to eat and his shirts even- 
tually got washed and darned. He could not dislike old Olleroyd, he 
was glad to have darling Rosie under his roof again, even if that sharp- 
faced, clever young fellow of hers made him continuously uneasy. Yet 
there were times when he did allow himself to think a little wistfully of 
the Everton house he had been brought up in: where people knocked 
before they came in, where, however crowded the other three rooms, 
the Best Room was kept for special occasions, and where the intractable 
old Methodist who had brought him up with her four other children 
could hold the lot of them in silence and submission whenever and as 
long as she required. 

Beyond that, he was a little frightened. He had been away through 
most of Gian's and Rosie's infancy, seeing them only for short periods 
and very much as a visitor would. With Rosie, who responded quickly 
to his petting, he had maintained an easy relationship. With a boy it 
was different; Gian had belonged to his mother, she seemed to under- 
stand him, and Simon, the last to disturb a peaceful situation, had seen 
neither cause nor means for interference. Yet affection of a kind had 
grown, a sympathy like that which underlies many contented marriages, 
seldom risked in the dangerous vessel of language. "You managing all 
right, son?" "Can't grumble!" — such speeches had generally been all 
that their friendship required, though there were moments still clear in 
Simon's memory when they would have valued a greater fluency: times 
when the boy's quick temper had got him into trouble, when another 



2X2 



of Simon's jobs had proved a failure. In the Damien Street Court they 
had been given five minutes together, just before Gian's removal to 
Spenwick ; on that occasion neither had uttered more than a few words, 
but in a curious fashion they had understood each other more closely 
than ever before. Simon cherished that fugitive intimacy. It was weak- 
ened now: this son of his who had a woman to share his life could not 
be entirely the same, he had grown a little older and stiffer in his 
behaviour, already his speech had noticeably changed: but the essence 
of it must still be there, Simon obscurely thought, and a man whose 
appetite for friendship was never satisfied would not hghtly let it go. 

''Take a bit of getting used to," he said, ''being married and all 
that." They were on the top of a bus, Simon had worked it out that 
he could go half-way to Hammersmith with Gian and then get back to 
Ladywell in time to clock in. "Still, I reckon she'll treat you all right, 
same as you treat her, once she get the feel of it, see what I mean." 

Gian suddenly grinned: it was something Simon had not seen for 
months. "She got the feel of pretty near everything!" 

"She's not treating you unkind?" Simon asked anxiously. 

Gian said, folding his ticket into a concertina: "There ain't a better 
girl than Sue, I don't care where you look. Someone tell me there's 
another girl as good as Sue and I'll smash his face in for him, an' 
that's flat." 

Simon could only say: "You're gone on her, I reckon?" 

"Bet y'life!" 

Well, that was the great thing, that was all that really mattered, 
the important thing was not to say or do anything which could inter- 
fere with that. But as the bus broke loose from Parliament Square and 
charged towards Victoria he was not entirely satisfied. He had got up 
early for this talk and it was putting an extra fivepence on the day's 
outgoings; he wanted to be certain he had achieved his purpose. 

"She help you with the studying?" he asked. 

"She do that." 

"Come easier now?" 

Gian, working his mouth rather as a cow does, straightened his 
ticket and began re-folding it. He did not answer till they were past 
the Army and Navy. 

"She think I ought to have a silky's job. Well, you got to try, see, 
come you like it or come you don't." 

Simon nodded, his eyes fixed on the neck of the man in front. 

213 



"This job she got you — that go all right?" 

Almost imperceptibly Gian shrugged his shoulders. 

"Do all right! They pay y'." Then he said: "Fumin' great block 
on offices — 'surance or some such. Half a million fumin' bricks, I 
wouldn't wonder. Lot of fumin' usel" 

"Still, they pay youl" 

"Yes, they pay y'!" 

"An' it don't really matter, so long as the job's good." 

"The way I see it, it's no sort of fumin' good. Kids all over the 
place — they want somewhere to live in, somewhere to muck about. Lot 
of fumin' good a bunch of offices is to them." 

Simon was out of his depth. "Well, you never know," he said. 
"May find yourself in a breakin'-up gang, next thing that comes along! 
S'long, son!" 

He started moving towards the stairs. Then he stopped, came back 
and stood with his hand on the back of the seat he had just occupied. 

"Course, I don't know nothin'," he said. "I'm nothink, only an old 
sailoring man — don't get much luck to speak of along in the theatre 
business. Well, there it is, I'm supposed to be your dad, just the same. 
See what I mean? You find things the way like they give you the belly- 
ache, up in crow's nest, I mean. Well, you can always come along to 
me. I'm there to listen to what you got to say, you know what I mean." 

Gian, only just turning his head, rapped his father's fingers with 
his knuckle. "I get y'," he said. 

"Would you be gettin' on the bus," the conductor inquired, "or 
gettin' off the bus, or jus' walkin' up an' down for a bit o' exercise?" 

Still unhappy, Simon felt nevertheless that something had been 
achieved. "Boos?" he said absently. "Call this ole boombat a boos!" 
and got down into Sloane Square. 

He was distrait all that day. "Ole Simon Ardree," they said at the 
Palace, just within his hearing, "he's fallen in love, that's what's the 
matter with him." "What, ole Simon what got a wife and kidth of his 
own, about seventy-five ton of wife an' kidth all told? Ga-ah! He'th 
dreamin' of hith ole seafarin' days, time he had a great battle with a 
nundred man-eatin' sharkth, along off the coath of Bulawayo!" "Sweet 
dreams, Simon boy? Back on the quarter-deck, was you? — heave-ho, 
m'lads, treasure ahead, all change here for the desert island, step off 
with the right foot first, this way to the enchanted castle, turn left for 



?i4 



the be-eautiful princess, all hung round with pearls an' diamon's an' 
lost her bloomin' drawers." "Quiet over there!" Mr Epsom bawled. But 
Simon was not disturbed. Izzy Brooks and Lofty, they must have their 
fun. Very slowly he planed the board which was to replace a worm- 
eaten one on the port side of the stage; a job was all the better for 
being done slow, someone had once told him. No, with a lad like Gian 
there was no getting to the bottom of him. You never would have fan- 
cied his picking up with a girl like that, regular lady, right off the 
saloon deck. Queer little cuss, he'd looked, Maria holding him the way 
all the Eye-tie women did, alongside the Molo Vecchio at Genoa. ("Si, 
Simono, sissisa figlio, you figlio, Simono carissimo!") Come to that, he 
never was the sort you'd fancy in the clink, neither. Temper, yes. Hit 
about a bit with his fists, same as any lad what got that size of a mitt 
on him. But prison! A quiet sort of a lad like that Gian — keep hisself 
to hisself — no vice in him what you could see. "Sure, Mr Epsom, get- 
tin' on with it just as quick as ever I can! You, young Izzy, if you'd 
keep your perishin' head out of my light — !" And suddenly he was 
angry. The girl wasn't going to make a fool of the lad, that much he 
knew — she wasn't going to make a fool of his son! The lad wasn't 
nothing out of the ordinary, didn't pretend he was, but he was Simon's 
son, there was a way Simon felt about him and he wasn't going to have 
the lad suffering in his mind, come all the cabin-class bits of fluff that 
ever minced and mauked in Burkley Square. That look of Gian's in the 
dingy room at Damien Street; that little tap of his on Simon's fingers 
this morning . . . The grain in the board he was planing became indis- 
tinct, "You got a cold on you, Simon boy?" Lofty was asking. Yes, a 
sort of joke he was, not having a face like a picture-postcard, nobody 
understanding what he was made of. But there might come a day when 
the joke would end. 

"Yes, Mr Epsom, I am getting on with it! ... Here, Izzzy, you're 
supposed to know about buyin' and sellin', with a sniffer the shape 
yours is. You tell me, where's the cheapest place I put my hands on 
them serviette things?" 

Yes, he might be nothing but a monkey-faced old sailor-man, but 
there wasn't any man or woman going to do just what they liked with a 
decent-hearted lad like his son. 



215 



21 



T 

JLu] 



HE YOUNG FELLOW was Working, there was no question about 
that. A sight of him iiow would have shaken the men at the Hibbage 
Lane depot (all except Charlie Empire, who was surprised by nothing, 
least of all by what a man would do when a pair of legs and a tidy 
bosom were in the contract). At Hibbage Lane, to all appearances, the 
boy had done his stint merely to save himself the bother of not doing 
it. Especially in the days after his bit of police trouble they were used 
to seeing him come through the clock with only seconds to spare and 
then lounge in a corner of his pit all day long without a civil word to 
anyone, biting his lips, working his jet as the laziest of Satan's servitors 
might play the flames upon the damned. A version of that dour expres- 
sion was familiar now to the men of Timble Vale Construction, but the 
slouch and the contemptuous sniff had given place to a nervous con- 
centration. He cadded for one 'Stumper' Bead (from which he derived 
the name 'Stumper's Tosser', reduced in time to 'Stosser') but when 
Stumper was having one of his stand-easies Stosser would fetch and 
carry for anyone who needed it. For this assiduity he was mocked but 
not disliked. "The boy can't hold himself!" they said. "You keep at 
it, Stosser boy!" they said, "they'll be making you foreman come this 
time next week." "Foreman? Ain't you heard — director of the com- 
pany, that's what they got Stosser chalked up for. Mr Peglett tell me 
he got the chitty this morning, with 'Secret and Continental' written 
all over . . . Oy, Stosser, them two ladders, jus' before the Rolls-Royce 
come for y', get 'em over 'ere, will y' . . ." He bore it patiently, he 
acquired one of those grins which nature's butts put on like a face 
cream and continued to work twice as hard as anyone or^ the job. 

It suited Stumper well enough. 

"Ardree, boy," Stumper would say, "you'll never make a brick- 
layer. Not if you live for a 'undred years. It's an art, bricklaying is. You 
go rushin' at it, mus' get the next course finished by dinner — well, that's 
not bricklayin', that's jus' navvy work. I done a church job down over 
at Blackheath — that's real brickwork, that is, the sort you get on a 
church job — and d'you know how long it took me to do the first course 
of the arch over the vestery? One whole month, that took me, jus' 
before the war that was, an' me been in the trade thirty-seven year. 
Now that was what I call bricklayin'. ... All right, yes, you can go on 

2l6 



as far as where the angle starts. It won't take me no time to knock 
that bit away and do it again . . . Drive me well-nigh loony," he would 
say, ''standin' here watchin' you muckin' an' messin', treat the stuff 
like you was diggin' up a field of turnips — ploughboy's mate, that's 
what you oughter've been!" 

But in truth, the risk to his mental stability was small, for his mind 
was in English bond and as safely founded as the work he had done in 
his prime. Nor had he ever been blessed with a better pupil to do his 
job for him. This Ardree, for all that his fists were like a mistake of 
the butcher's, had already learnt to handle a trowel as if it were a 
thing with nerves in it; his work was neither slap-dash nor sluggish, he 
could listen while he trowelled and sometimes ask sensible questions. At 
sixty-three, with a body shaped and weathered by use, you may feel 
that you're as good a man as ever, but your hands, working at chest 
level, are stiffened by the cold more quickly than in the old days. 
Stumper had no dislike of work, taking his own time, on a job where his 
matured skill got him better results than the next man's, a bit of arch 
or chimney work, a job of corbelling; but with stuff like this, all worked 
out in the drawing-office so as a casual could barely slip up on it, it 
was pleasanter to stand back on his good leg with his hands in his 
pockets, an old sack tucked cosily round his shoulders, to watch and 
criticize, to talk of the beauty of work on intersecting angles, of a job 
he'd done copying an old fire-place out Barnet way. 

''That Ardree," Mr Peglett asked, "he do you all right?" 

''Ardree? Ay, he's willing enough. Give him of a bit of trowellin' 
to try his hand at, now and then — not that you'd make a bricklayer on 
Mm, not in a 'undred years." 

But Peglett dry Northumbrian, knew better than that: old Stum- 
per was not the kind to let a bit of brickwork stand with his name 
against it unless it was as near perfect as eye and trowel could make it, 
loving craftsman that the old basket was; and yet he was doing pre- 
cious little of this piece himself. Shy as a girl, Peglett never seemed to 
look at anyone, he merely glanced up as a miller does when he emerged 
from his wooden cabin. But he saw things. Up on the staging at the 
north end, bending over the ventilation plan that Mr Roberts had 
brought down from the office, he kept one eye to sweep across the job 
as far as the Cricket Street turning, over the web of ladder and scaffold, 
the iron roof of the masons' shop, the tortoise movement of the casuals 
steering their barrows along the bridge of deals from the brick stacks 



217 



to the hoists; there, on a stage a few feet lower than where he stood, 
he had ghmpses of Stumper, a grey Napoleon in corduroys, leaning 
back, leaning forward (like a bleeding artist, Peglett thought) with- 
out ever taking his hands from his pockets, while the young bullock 
beside him never once put down his trowel. Hm! So the chap was handy 
enough to please old Bead, Bead who said there was never a man you 
could call a bricklayer unless he came from Dorset and none at all 
apprenticed since '77. Peglett spoke to the youth, seeing him waiting 
for a bus. "Getting hold of it, son?" A ghost of a grin, and then the 
sullen look again. "Uh-huh!" Perhaps a Httle wrong in the head, Peg- 
lett thought. Or merely one of those who looked no further than the 
next meal and the next ypung woman. But the face had something of 
its own, you knew it when you saw it again. And the lad could work, 
take him any way you pleased. 

This was a winter of some severity, cold for men enjoying in the 
streets the world they had fought for. Soon, when the long spell of 
rain was done, there was snow on the staging which froze your feet 
all day; and now that the boisterous gusts from the river side had 
ceased a steadier wind was born which came down Fulneck Street like a 
wire broom. Up here, level with the dismal roofs of Auberry Terrace, 
so that you saw right over to the Middlesex Water Works, you were 
consigned to a region fashioned uniquely for your wretchedness; where, 
with the mind so numbed that it would not reach beyond the pain in 
ears and hands, you came to regard the ordinary people walking in the 
street below, the tops of buses passing through King Street, as a crudely 
realistic modelling shown under glass. From that life to which you had 
once belonged you were still divided by four, five hours of endurance, 
and the clock-hands just visible above the roof of Straker's Stores 
moved as if they too were stiff with the cold. Deliverance came at last 
with the sky's darkening. You hardly felt the rungs as you climbed 
down, dimly trusting that hands or feet would do their work from 
habitude. And in the street, with lights coming on in the windows, you 
looked at people sitting to their evening meal as one from the jungle 
would, still doubting their reality. 

He thawed a little sitting in the bus, rather faint, confused by 
the sweep of crowding lights. But his feet stayed dead, and the slow 
walk along Borough Road chilled him again. 

It amused Ed, looking up from the Star, to see his brother-in-law 
blinking in the doorway, ears red, eyes bloodshot and wet, the white 
lips just parted in what might be a grin or just a canine imbecility. 

218 



"Well, Gyan boy, got your foreman's job?" And Olleroyd, nodding 
affably, would push some plates aside to make a place at the table 
while Maria, squealing with laughter, ran to and fro between the 
dresser and the range. Perhaps he was happy in that half-hour, with 
the warmth and familiarity surrounding him, though he spoke very 
little and gave his smiles as if they were small change he could ill- 
afford. At seven, most nights, he was off to the evening class. 

In ^G' lecture-room at the Grover Institute you had your choice: 
you could sit close to the stove and be scorched or sit away from it 
and freeze. But here the agony was to keep awake. "Now listen, gentle- 
men — I don't surely have to go through that again!" and the nine sur- 
vivors in the course would stir uneasily, feeling for some new position 
where neither buttocks nor shoulder-blades were tortured by the 
adamantine seats. Mr Good took off his spectacles and seemed for some 
moments to be in prayer. "Surely one of you can tell me the difference 
between 'plan' and 'elevation'?" They rubbed their eyes and looked des- 
pairingly at the board, they woke up little Davies and whispered the 
question to him, little Davies coughed and bit his nails. "Parker?" 
"Well, I mean to say, it's like what you was telling us last time." 
"Kind of you to say so!" Mr Good remarked with a trace of bitterness 
and sniffed despondently. "Ardree. now?" A spark of mirth ran across 
the dismal room, and a kick on the bovine Hobb's ankle was passed 
along till it got to Gian's. 

"What? I didn't hear you." 

"Perhaps I might suggest, Mr Ardree, that you try listenink with 
your eyes open. You might find it easier, if you don't mind my men- 
tionink it." The titter went round again: really Mr Good was a comic 
in his own fashion, whatever you might say. "I was askink," Mr Good 
continued, "if you could help these gentlemen here" (Sarcastic old 
bastard! they thought) "with a definition of the difference between 
'plan' and 'elevation'." 

"Well, I don't rightly know how you say it." 

"Ah!" 

"Only I know the way they look. Them plans, if you see what I 
mean, if you look at 'em from on top — well, I mean to say, what you 
call a levation, it's the same as if you look at it — well, the other way, 
see what I mean." 

"He mean, same as if you was to crawl underneath and look at it," 
Davies suggested. 

"Or sneak up on it round the corner," murmured Hobbs. 



219 



"Now listen," Mr Good said, "I'm put here to help you perish — 
to help you gentlemen improve your minds (as you call 'em) and get 
you up on to better jobs. Now it's all the same to me, whether you do 
or whether you don't . . ." 

They all shifted again. This speech came at least once a week, it 
was the sole item in Mr Good's tutorial repertoire which every one of 
them could recite verbatim. They liked it, since it filled up nearly five 
minutes, and for that space they were released from the obligation to 
look like eager students momentarily baffled by a problem of unique 
complexity. Ten-past eight — they were already half-way through. Most 
of them had a day's work behind, on a new estate at Gharlton, in the 
permanent twilight of a warehouse on Softer's Wharf, the narrow 
ledger-room of a toothpaste factory where another clock like the one 
above Good's head fought stubbornly against the advance of time. The 
flame of ambition which had first brought them to the feet of Mr Good 
had long since died to embers. One or two, struggling to keep their 
heads above the waves of sleep, still tried to absorb a little of what he 
was saying; a few went on attending the classes as some agnostics go 
to church, vaguely expecting a mystic conversion into scholarship; the 
rest because they had paid the fee or because this musty room was 
warmer than the street outside. They leant against each other or 
crouched over their note-books, staring at Mr Good's high forehead till 
it became an undulating mirage, turning for relief to the row of Useful 
Gharts, so long under dust and gaslight that they blended with the 
brown distemper of the walls; always, from the tail of one eye, they 
watched the crawl of the minute hand from eight to quarter-past, to 
the half, to quarter-to, to nine o'clock. "Well, I s'pose you gentlemen'U 
be gettink brain fever if you learn any more in one evenink." When 
the magic sentence fell they loosened out like unpacked silk and herded 
towards the door, shivering and yawning as if they were soldiers roused 
for early parade, to join the crowd from other class-rooms which clat- 
tered through the windy twilight of the corridor and down the concrete 
stairs to the cold, quick-scented freedom of the street. 

Home again at twenty-past he saw Susie, these evenings, for the 
first time since early morning; at Boughton's, where she had found a 
job, they had changed her to the later shift, so she had to do suppers 
and didn't get back till nine. He found her as a rule finishing her own 
supper, and with the shyness that returned in those fourteen hours of 
separation he sat down gingerly at her side. "What sort of a day?" she 



220 



would ask, concealing her own weariness, and pushing the treacle to- 
wards her plate he would look nervously at his dirty finger-nails. 

"Not so bad!" 

"And this evening's class went off all right?" 

"Much the same." 

Earlier, they had sometimes found comparative privacy in the 
second back room, but this was too cold to sit in now. In the kitchen 
the general noise — Ed and Rosie sparring, Maria's clatter, the wail of 
Evangeline when she was being held out — would serve for a time to 
protect their quietness; but as they laboured tiredly to dovetail their 
thoughts some separate voice would constantly break in. Maria, scrub- 
bing her pans and chaffing old Mrs Bentlock about her corns, would 
suddenly whip round to utter her stinging laugh, crying, "Ayee! Serris 
my Gian — my marrit son Gian — alio, mi' picciolol" Then the courteous 
Olleroyd would put down the Furrier, brush a few crumbs from the 
folds in his waistcoat and address himself to Gian's wife with some 
solemnity. "It's my belief, Mrs Ardree, speaking from sixty-three years 
I've been in this world of ours, that we live in strange times — strange 
and remarkable times." Or Ed, snapping the book in which he jotted his 
day's profits and losses, came round and pushed his thin, pointed fingers 
into Gian's hair. "I reckon it's a marvel, Mrs Susie, the change you've 
made in our Gyan. You'd say he might be a bank-manager now, just 
to look at him I Keeps his trap shut so as he won't give anything away, 
don't you, Gyan boy!" As soon as they had washed the rest of the 
supper things they retreated as a rule to the cold bedroom. 

"You don't think this lecturer is any good?" 

"Well, you see how it is — all book stuff, don't mean nothink. I get 
on all right Tuesdays, down in the shops with Mr Benfellow. Some- 
thing a bloke can get his hand to, that kind of teachin'." 

"Yes, but you see, dear, so many other blokes can too!" She 
smiled, looking at his wrists. "Of course it's a marvellous thing to be 
able to do things. It's all I should want for anyone — except my Gian. 
But then, you've got more in you than that! You're going to count for 
more than other men — after you've learnt a few things that they 
haven't." 

She saw he was hardly listening. Staring numbly at the gravure 
of Marigold and Her Friends he buttoned his pyjamas, lit a final cigar- 
ette and got into bed. She could have fallen asleep at once, but the 
value of this one hour was worth the struggle to keep awake. 



221 



"Gian," she said, ''I think I may possibly be on the track of a 
house that would suit us." 

That roused him. "Cor, honest truth?" 

"Well, it's all rather indefinite, but Mr Olleroyd advised me to 
see the barman at the Old Richmond, who's rather a friend of his — a 
man called Herb Evans. Apparently Herb Evans knows all about every- 
body and everything." 

"I know him." 

"So I managed to slip along there this morning. Well, he doesn't 
know about any houses himself, not at present, but he told me of some- 
one who he thinks does. Only — listen, Gian, it's someone you don't 
much like, but, you see, we do really want to find somewhere before 
young Arthur arrives — " 

"Who is it?" he asked shortly. He was not devoid of intuitions. 

"Well, it's that tiresome creature Empire — " 

"Charlie Empire?" 

"Yes, Gian, I know he's been anything but a good friend to you — " 

"That's neither here nor there. I'm having no dealings with Charlie, 
and that's the end on it." 

"But, Gian dear, what is it you've got against him? It was only a 
rotten job you had at Hibbage Lane." 

"It's not the sort of thing as concerns you, or anyone of your sort," 
he answered stubbornly. 

"But anyway, we could probably do everything through a third 
person — possibly through Herb Evans himself. I mean, if this is our 
one chance of getting a home — " 

He said fiercely: "I'll have no muckin' about with Charlie Empire, 
neither you nor me!" 

He had not used that tone with her before. She lay on her back, 
wide awake now, with her eyes closed and her lips together, confident 
that she could resist the impulse to weep. She heard him stab out the 
cigarette and presently she could feel that he had turned to bring his 
face close to hers watching her intently. 

This was a moment when she might well have given way to crying ; 
not in order to break down his immediate opposition but for a larger 
purpose: to gain him finally and wholly. She knew that. But still she 
did not cry. She had a kind of honesty, guarded as people guard old 
flags or stones, not for their loveliness but for their intrinsic virtue; and 



222 



that virtue would be polluted by the sentimentality of tears. She 
opened her eyes and looked quietly at his face. 

It was a beaten face, transfixed by grief and fear. He did not 
speak or even move his lips. His eyes, not often lit to reveal the half- 
tones of emotion, spoke by themselves of what he wanted now: to see 
her weep, so that he might smother her tears in his comfort ; to feel her 
arm come round his neck, to be given only a small sign or gesture to 
which his narrow means could respond. It was a strength surely out- 
side the commonplace which kept this very tired woman from yielding 
then to the assault of tears, from giving him the semblance he wanted 
of an emotion she did not feel: strength, or a peculiar lucidity: helped, 
perhaps, by the clouded memory of a woman standing by the nursery 
window whose voice, as the door opened, changed from a ripple of sar- 
casm into heaving, histrionic sobs. Turning away from him, she said: 

''I'm sorry you feel as you do, Gian. I think it's foolish. Still, I 
must try looking somewhere else." 

For some time they lay awake, he with his forehead thrust deeply 
into the bolster, the sleeve of his pyjamas between his teeth; still hear- 
ing through the flimsy walls Eliza Bentlock's wheeze and Maria's 
cackle, the tireless flippancies of Ed Hugg's adenoidal voice. 



22 



V^HANCE, helped by the mechanics of the household, presented her 
with three letters on the same day. The post brought them over a period 
of two weeks, but Maria, who presumed that every letter contained a 
wholesaler's bill, was used to stuffing everything that arrived into the 
shoe box where she kept her marriage lines with other old papers and 
darning wool and bottles of Aspro. Rosie found them there by chance 
just when Armorel was starting for work and threw them over. 
''Must be yours. Sue, envelopes like that — must cost a bit!" 
The first she opened was from Elizabeth in Shropshire: Elizabeth 
had heard that Trevon Grist was in the Kennington Royal Hospital, 
possibly Armorel had been to see him and could give her some news? 
Sitting in the bus, she merely glanced at this one and put it away in 

223 



the bottom of her attache-case: that Hfe was done. To the second, which 
came from the principal of the Grover Institute and was headed 'Con- 
fidential', she gave more attention. 

In reply to your letter of the 29th ultimo, I have called for interim 
reports on Mr G. Ardree's progress. 

Mr Ardree is doing well in the manual classes, and it is our 
opinion that he has the ability to become a first-class tradesman in 
any of the branches in which he may decide to specialize. He shows 
particular aptitudes for Bricklaying and for Joinery, and we think 
that he might with advantage attend more advanced classes in 
either of these Trades. 

His theoretical work is not of the same standard, and we have 
reluctantly concluded that it would be a waste of his time to go on 
to further studies of this kind. If, however, he is determined to do 
so, we think that he should first attend a more general course, since 
his general education is not, in our view, at present up to the school 
leaving standard, which is the minimum standard we assume all 
students in our theoretical classes to have attained. The Education 
Department of the London County Council would doubtless be 
ready to give advice in this matter. 

That letter seemed to be of first importance. But the one with the 
Streatham postmark, which a kind of nervousness made her keep till 
the last, pushed it into a lower place. 

My dear Armorel: 

It falls to me to send you news which has brought me great 
grief, and will not be less grievous to you. Like me, you must have 
continued to hope, however faintly, that your father had survived. 
That hope we can no longer retain. Today I have received from 
the War Office a letter informing me that Arthur's death in the 
second Battle of the Aisne has been definitely ascertained from 
the report of a warrant officer who was with him and was after- 
wards taken prisoner. There is no detailed account, but the report 
says that early on the day of his death Arthur received severe 
shrapnel wounds in the neck and shoulder, and was ordered by his 
commanding officer to go back to the casualty station. He avoided 
doing so. For me that is enough. 

I shall not attempt to offer you consolations — these I think 
would be as useless to you as they are to me. Neither shall I say 
anything about what kind of man your father was, because you 
were old enough to know him well. We shall remember him, I sup- 



224 



pose, in different ways. But we both know that he served his fellows 
selfiessly and his God without fear. 

It is impossible for me to finish this letter without including 
the message of goodwill which I have long intended to send you 
but which has been delayed by an old woman's weakness for pro- 
crastination. Your aunt Edith, as you know, has for some time past 
been mistress of this house, which I no longer have the strength — 
or perhaps the interest — to manage myself. That position — and the 
fact that Dr Eustace now forbids me to travel prevents me at 
present from saying that I should like to see you again. But I see 
no reason why the estrangement between Edith and yourself should 
continue indefinitely, or even continue at all. You will not, I feel 
sure, allow the smaller kind of pride to interfere should the oppor- 
tunity occur for what one may call, perhaps too grandiloquently, 
a reconciliation. Meanwhile let me say, without raising again the 
question of your choice of a partner (which would be tedious for 
us both), that I, at any rate, have never doubted your possession 
of the fibre needed to make a success of the life you have resolved 
upon. Perhaps I myself should have made something less negligible 
of my life if the choices before women of the middle classes had 
been less narrowly restricted than they were in my time. But that 
is a question of academic interest, and for you of no interest at all. 
One thing I can say: that in following the notion of absolute duty 
to our husbands — a notion long since indignantly discarded — many 
of us Victorian females did discover a passion of the heart which 
burnt steadily enough to light us right through our days. Possibly 
it was the passion and not the duty which really counted. 

This is as much as I can write — I no longer have the nervous 
force to stay at one task for any length of time. Please — I do not 
ask you to try to cultivate any sentimental feelings for or about 
a disintegrating and rather boring old woman. But on this occasion 
when we are at least partners in sadness I hope that the daughter 
of my dear son will accept the blessing — and the true affection — of 
her loving grandmother, 

Gertrude M. Cepinnier. 

It was fortunate that when this letter came she had worn her new 
life long enough to have it fitting in the way that shoes, even if 
roughly made, will fit with use. With the advance of her pregnancy the 
days' discomfort had increased: in Maria's house she felt more keenly 
the lack of any place where she could be at ease and undisturbed, at 
Houghton's the fatigue of standing by a table while customers debated 



225 



whether to take the cod or the plaice almost defeated her endurance. 
But she hardly noticed the smells now, noises like that of Ed's voice 
had grown so familiar that they scarcely grated, there was no longer 
any strangeness in the sight of Olleroyd making do without a handker- 
chief or of hens exploring the kitchen floor. Her surroundings yielded 
few positive pleasures in which she could share; these people's bouts 
of cheerfulness were pitched still further from her compass than the 
hearty ribaldries of Hollysian House. But the law of familiarity had 
again begun to operate, by which dead matter assumes a kind of friend- 
liness and routine, and having at first curbed the pace of time, begins to 
quicken it. Acquiring new tricks of hand and mind, she could total a bill 
faster than her fellow waitresses. At home she had discovered shelf and 
cupboard space outside Maria's orbit, so that when Maria was calling 
on St Anthony and the Blessed Virgin for a packet of soap-flakes it 
was she who produced them and she, when the drain of the sink was 
clogged, who magically cleared it with a piece of wire. From such bits 
and pieces of activity, methodically sewn into the fabric of her sur- 
roundings, she had achieved a pattern which the others recognized and 
which she could feel to be a private possession: a pattern of no ele- 
gance, but one to give that negative contentment which serves as under- 
study when happiness is not at hand. 

Thinking of the child inside she was hungry for a place of her 
own. But Contessa Street with the noise of steam saws and the smell 
of railway belonged to her a little now. Lizzie Bentlock would wave 
from the window as she passed, she knew the policeman who was 
generally on duty at the corner and the newsboy gave her a good-morn- 
ing. These were stakes more authentic than those of her student days 
in a concern of some repute. The tawdry patchwork of shops along the 
Causeway and the thresh of traffic about the Elephant's grotesque 
fagade, pigeons waddling slowly out of the way of buses and the Lion 
Brewery growing from a river fog: this drab conglomerate of kick- 
shaws and commotion held you in bonds not wholly different from a 
lover's embrace. 

The crowd unloaded by the bus was ravelled with a stream de- 
bouching from the tube, shoppers and clerks swarmed up the street 
in a cloud of chatter and smoke. As unconcerned as they in the loss 
of all identity she let herself be swept along to the door marked 
Oswald Boughton Ltd. Stag. 

"I'm putting you with Doris today, Mrs Ardree. That's the window 

226 



side down as far as the orchjestra. D'you think you can manage this 
lot on one tray?" 

In some way Gertrude's letter had cleared the issue. The final tie 
had gone. And another lingering question was solved as well. From 
her earliest years of understanding, her mother, child of Rhondda Cal- 
vinists, shrewd about the tricks life played, had taught her to rely on 
herself: "It's people with no will of their own who talk about their 
trust in God — it's just an excuse for weakness . . ." Hitherto she had 
not wholly accepted that. She had never tried to understand her father; 
for few had understood that man of infinite lights and shades, who 
would throw out a clue and follow it immediately with one that pointed 
the other way; but her love for him, that deep, warm stream which 
was the source of all her gentleness and whose channel no other stream 
would find, demanded her loyalty to those of his beliefs which she 
could comprehend. She knew that the centre of them all was his faith 
in a God of compassion; and in a tacit bargain of the sort men make 
within themselves she had given that God the chance to prove his good- 
ness before she finally discarded him. On the platform at Hayward's 
Heath, wriggling in his uniform and staring sardonically at a cocoa 
poster, Arthur had said in his off-hand way: "You know, Rellie — what- 
ever happens, one doesn't get out of the range of God's love. I never 
have any doubt about that." And now Irene was living as she wished, 
and her father was some sort of crumpled mess beneath the Picardy 
slime. 

"Are you feeling quite all right, Mrs Ardree? Terrible colour you 
do look today, if you don't mind my saying!" 

"Yes, thank-you, Doris, I'm perfectly all right. I expect I've put on 
too much powder — I always do when I'm in a hurry! " 

So now it was Gian or nothing, and the doubts which had returned 
these last few weeks must be finally put away. The letter from the 
Institute crept back into her thoughts: she would read it again going 
home and work out a plan of attack. But no, not today, her mind would 
not be clear enough today. 

"Oh, I am so sorry — I thought you said mashed potato. No, I'll 
take it back and get you fried — no, it's no trouble at all!" 

Yes, she thought (leaning against the counter, repeating "Two 
mashed three fried, please. Miss Harvey"), I must find somewhere for 
us to live, quickly, quickly, I must get him away from Contessa Street 
where all the old life still encircles him. 



227 



He was altering. She could watch the changes as a mother watches 
the growth of her child, glorying in her percipience and power: the 
quietening of his voice and behaviour, the rare, faint flashes of sensi- 
tivity. His devotion was unfaltering: he was never too tired to run her 
errands, he could not rest if she was on her feet, grew nervous and 
forlorn, and sometimes rude to the others, whenever she betrayed her 
weariness. But there was more in his development than that: a hint of 
increasing shrewdness, of something akin to savoir-faire. Perhaps he had 
listened more than she supposed to the chatter at the North View, to 
Mr Bishop's obiter dicta and the bits that Cupwin read aloud from the 
Sunday Express. A laconic remark or two showed that he knew a little 
about the surreptitious activities at the building site, the wangles on 
overtime, the small rake-offs earned in the allocation of tasks. And he 
would say of a lecturer at the Grover, "Always has it pat on a Tues- 
day — that's the night the principal look in most often." Yes, his mind 
had moved into a higher gear since the day when he had sighed and 
sweated over a simple job on the library register. And that, surely was 
what she had looked and laboured for. But was the advance in just the 
direction she had wished? 

"No, it's fourpence extra. Perhaps you were looking at the 2/6 
Special — coffee's included in that." 

She caught from tags of conversation between him and his mother 
a scattered glimpse or two of a life still far outside her reach. And 
often, while she talked to him, she could see from the shift of shadow 
in his eyes that he was wandering in a country which no map of hers 
even faintly resembled. Then there were times, rare till now, when he 
showed a flicker of his old independence. "Wensday? Can't do it — I 
got myself fixed up on a bit of overtime . . . Well, the way I look at 
it, we've got to get the chink, see." And once he had said: "That Good, 
I give him just what I got on my mind tonight. Him getting on to that 
nipper of a Davies, all sarcastic, and that's a little bloke that tries all 
he can. I tell him, 'That's enough of that talk,' I said. I said, 'You 
get paid to do the teaching on us blokes. You just get on with it!' I 
said." That again was what she had wanted: to see him acquiring con- 
fidence, moving towards the time when he would have a position and 
authority of his own. But not outside her leadership. She had given 
him everything and she was ready to go on giving. He, on his side, 
must have no secrets, no hopes or anxieties in which he did not come to 
her for guidance. In a hundred small affairs of dress and behaviour he 

228 



had followed where she gently led, at times he seemed to have submitted 
wholly to the design she had drawn for him. But the tree she had 
pruned so carefully might yet grow to a shape she had not intended, 
and now that she was utterly alone she could not tolerate the itch of 
that uncertainty. In such a mind as his, so crudely made in compari- 
son with hers, there could be no corridors sealed permanently from her 
reason and patience. She must know without the last film of doubt 
that she possessed him. 

He told her that night that he had heard of a half-house which 
might be going; he would see the man on Saturday afternoon and try 
to fix it. 

"But, Gian dear, I've got to work on Saturday this week. I do 
think we ought to do the house-hunting together, it's the only way to 
be sure of getting something to suit us both." 

"It'll be gone if I don't fix it quick," he told her. "You can't go 
pickin' and choosin', not nowadays." 

"Well, I do intend to pick and choose," she answered quietly. And 
then, seeing that she had hurt him, she said: "I'm sorry, dear, I'm 
rather tired, I got some bad news this morning. My father — ^you know, 
I've told you about him — well, they've found out definitely that he's 
dead." 

He was changed at once. He came nervously to her side, dry with 
distress. 

"But — you was gone on him, wasn't you, Sue!" 

That was all he managed to say. He would have taken her hand, 
perhaps kissed her, but evidently he did not know if that was the right 
thing to do. 

She saw something like a scene opening: people of his sort went 
in for scenes on these occasions, and she must teach him gently that 
sensible people did without them. She started to brush out her hair. 

"Yes, he was a very dear man. But of course one's parents have to 
die sometime, don't they!" She gave him over her shoulder a smile full 
of kindness. "What I was thinking about Saturday was that we might 
have dinner together somewhere before I go on to Boughton's. We've 
got to work out some sort of a plan about what you're to do when the 
present course comes to an end." 



229 



23 



A 



N INTERPLAY of accidcnts, not remarkable, merely fascinating 
to those who like to browse over the mechanics of chance, caused Weald 
Street to be the background of Antonia's childhood: a casual remark 
overheard in a dingy bar, a resolution made at a moment when any 
decision seemed better than none. That background was perhaps less 
important than some would suppose. For a young child the immediate 
is what matters, the smell of a dress, the warmth there may be in rooms 
or in voices; the country beyond is accepted, it is only required to 
stay put. 

The freehold of the south side of the street was owned by some- 
thing or somebody called Irving's Beneficiaries; the leasehold by the 
Curtison Trust. Twice a year two elderly sisters living in a village near 
Carlisle received from solicitors in Worcester a cheque for £64. 15s 
which made their lives a little easier ; this came from the Curtison Trust 
and was "something to do with Great-aunt Maud," but that was all 
the old ladies knew; and half a dozen people living in Southampton, in 
Manitoba and elsewhere who received similar but smaller cheques prob- 
ably knew still less. It is a point of interest, though of no importance 
whatever, that through the will of one Thomas Curtison Gribble, who 
died in Calcutta in 1889, a twenty-sixth share went to Lawrence Cepin- 
nier, and thence ^in equal parts to the male children, legally begotten, 
of the said Lawrence Gribble Cepinnier,' which meant to Arthur; from 
whom it passed, on the establishment of his decease, in equal parts to 
his two children legally begotten. All that machinery worked from 
the impetus of periphrastic documents, brown with age, which lay 
in black tin boxes in the vaults of various banks; it was operated 
at several points by aged clerks who engrossed abstractions of titles in 
a spidery hand and by captive youths whose thoughts were on next 
Saturday's football; and few of the parties concerned knew anything 
about the others except, in some cases, their names. But below this 
upper crust of ownership came another stratum still more difficult to 
investigate. Shortly after each Quarter Day an elderly man called Mr 
Vision arrived at the offices of Folliage and Son, Solicitors, in Leaden- 
hall Street, was admitted to the office of Mr Gerald Folliage, drank one 
glass of port and placed under the corner of the inkwell stand, folded, 
his firm's cheque for £53. 2s lod. Once a month, when a certain Mrs 

230 



Driver was having her small rum and stout in the private saloon of 
the Old Richmond, Charles Empire would slide in, nod to her, put three 
or four bank-notes into her gloved hand, pat her shoulder, whisper, 
"Now you be careful of that, Kate," and disappear. Those two trans- 
actions were related. It has not been discovered precisely how. 

For that matter, no one — not even Herb Evans, who had an inside 
knowledge of most things in the Weald Street district — knew just what 
rights Charlie Empire had over his 'little properties'. Empire himself 
disclaimed all ownership. He 'knew a man who might fix things up,' 
he 'could take the money and give it to the right man, so that no one 
need worry'— and in fact, when that had happened, no one did need to 
worry. But he himself, he let it be understood, had no interest in the 
matter: he was a very poor man supporting an ailing wife and a de- 
pendent daughter, with medical expenses and one thing and another 
he could barely afford to keep his own little house going. Yes, fortu- 
nately he had friends who occasionally did him some kindness; one of 
them, for example, had let him have some rooms at a very low rate to 
use as storage space. And he in his turn did what he could to help 
others who were as badly off as himself. He could sometimes put people 
on to something he'd got to hear of. If he had any money in his pocket 
— which at the moment of speaking he did happen to have — he could 
tide you over with a quid or two, cheaper than what old Prestwich in the 
tobacconist's would let you in for. To young people, especially, he 
would always lend a helping hand — he had even taken two or three 
children, motherless girls in their teens, under his own roof for a time. 
He was a shy and modest man. 

At the Richmond his place was in a corner by the entrance to the 
saloon bar, where he would make a half-pint last all evening. He never 
talked much, he didn't want to spoil the conversation of his superiors, 
he was content to give them his shy, self-effacing smile. 

Ed Hugg really fixed it. Ed could deal with a man like Charlie — 
there wasn't anyone that Ed couldn't deal with. He was twenty-nine, 
much older than he looked, with the lean, downy face of a schoolboy 
who has matured too early. Two years in the Army Service Corps 
had merely underlined the lesson which he had understood well enough 
from childhood: that everything was against you except your own wits, 
that the other man was like yourself, just as smart and wanting pre- 
cisely what you wanted. Wearing those axioms as frontlets between the 
eyes he could afford to be agreeable. And indeed, he was always smil- 



231 



ing. He was small in body and particularly in his hands; quick but 
easy in his movements, especially when he offered cigarettes to women, 
who enjoyed his humour and his flattery. There was something in him 
of the Regency buck, turned out by Brummagem at a quarter the price. 
His bold shirts and cheap, dark suits fitted him like a skin. 

"This house of Empire's," he said to Herb Evans, in the privacy 
made by other people's chatter, "does he have it on a straight tie-in?" 

Herb said, as usual, 'T don't know aught about a house of 
Empire's." 

"Oh. Old Olleroyd thought you might." 

"Oh, him! Talk like a carpenter's mate, old Olleroyd. You better 
ask Charlie himself — he'll be in tonight." 

"He keep the flies off— Charlie?" 

"If he gets what he wants." 

Ed said "Ta, Herb!" and went to play snooker. 

So this Empire had a house, or part of one, and would want about 
fifty over the market rate, allowing for Herb's cut, and could be relied 
on to ward off any supplementary tenant that the man next above might 
try to squeeze into the circus. It might be a deal. Come to that, he 
might take the place for him and Rosie and the kid, only Contessa 
Street was good enough and as near as twopence buckshee. Or perhaps 
if he fixed it for Gian he could get his own cut off Charlie, though that 
seemed unlikely on a seller's pitch like there was these times. No, the 
cut, if any, would have to come off Gian himself. He'd push it along 
for a bit of sport, anyway. 

At supper, with both Gian and Rosie out, he had asked Armorel 
in his friendliest fashion whether she yet had any hopes of a place to 
live in, and she had wearily shaken her head. 

"No. I did hear of a place from the barman at the Old Richmond 
— he's a friend of Mr Olleroyd's. But the house seems to be owned by 
a man Gian specially dislikes, a man called Empire. He was Gian's 
foreman, you know, and he got him tricked out of the job somehow." 

"Pity!'^ he had said. 

And the situation was one he rather fancied. This girl was out of 
his line, he was clear enough on that: she might have tumbled right 
off her perch to get tied on to Gian — women did that sort of thing 
because they liked to be hurt a bit — but that didn't mean she was 
down to his weight or anywhere near it. Good enough: there was still 
nothing to rule out the chance of simple, Sunday evening fun. More 
and more he felt for Gian's wife a kind of chivalry, chivalry bent a 



232 



little at the edges to fit the shape of his mind. She was, after all, a 
woman: cut away the trimmings, the Park Lane behaviour, the jeah- 
fully-sorry-to-have-troubled-youah, and she was just the same as the 
rest, with the same requirements — cuddle, flattery, fun, a sense of dan- 
ger. And if Gian gave her the first of these — which within Ed's obser- 
vation he did on something like a bank-holiday schedule — he neglected 
all the rest. So Ed pitied her, and being practical he set himself to 
supply what was needed. He gave her a private, sidelong glance when 
Olleroyd fell into one of his more bovine pomposities, he was careful 
to notice anything new she wore and to praise it in such a way as to 
hint his admiration for the shape below as well as the garment above. 
He was cautious: not in avoiding offence to Rosie or Gian — he could 
dodge those two like the ghost of a pickpocket — but in keeping just on 
his own side of Mrs Gian's line. That was easy enough. Man of the 
world, salesman, he infected every customer with his own confidence. 
"As you like," his face, his shoulders said. "All the same to me, whether 
we do business or whether we don't." This affair of getting a house was 
right up his street: beauty in distress; the fairy godfather, shrewd, 
kindly, self-effacing; just a suggestion of secret conspiracy. Gian, of 
course, would be cross when he found out who was in the deal. Too 
bad, too bad! However, he had a few bits owing to Gian for one thing 
and another, for his smugness, his threats, and most of all for being such 
an insufferable fool. 

The game finished. "Lucky tonight!" he said with his friendly 
smile, put the half-crown in his pocket and went back to the bar. 

Olleroyd was there, benignly drinking what to Ed's exact knowl- 
edge had been owing to Maria Ardree for eleven weeks: his great, bald, 
browless head incongruously decked with grey tufts beneath the pouches 
of the eyes, the fishlike mouth raggedly screened with a tawny thatch, 
two hundredweight of mournful dignity loosely parcelled in the ultimate 
marasmus of a respectable black suit. "Well now, I've broken my rule 
this evening," Olleroyd told him. "In the usual way I only just look 
in here to say how-d'y'-do to one or two old friends. A man gets 
lonely — an old man in the position I'm in — and what with things being 
so bad in the fur trade — " 

"I get it!" Ed said shortly. "That over there, that's Charlie Em- 
pire, ain't it? Gyan's old boss! Right, I want him over here. Get him 
a wet, see, and one for yourself — that's on me, only nothing over a 
gin and Perkins, got it?" 

So Empire came over and sat nervously on the stool they gave him, 



233 



hating to be so conspicuous. The loaded air of the dark bar was vibrant 
with loud and confident voices, with the shrill laughter of steel-faced 
girls, and this little woman of a man seemed to have got here by mis- 
take, seeking a cup of tea at the Salvation Army. Ed smiled at him, 
while Olleroyd went on explaining: 

"Mr Hugg here, you see, he married the daughter of my old friend 
Mrs Ardree. Yes, I think I might call myself an old friend — very 
gracious, Mrs Ardree has been to me, and there have been times, I 
think I might truly say, when I have had the privilege of being of some 
slight assistance to Mrs Ardree. Mrs Ardree was saying to me only the 
other day—" 

"She was saying to him," Ed continued, "it was time he looked for 
somewhere else to go and put himself. You see, Mr Empire, my wife's 
ma don't want to be selfish, her chairs 've all been nicely warmed by 
Olleroyd's bum these last two years, time someone else had a go." 

"He likes his little joke," Olleroyd said despondently. 

"You wouldn't know of anyone that's got a couple of small rooms 
old Olleroyd here might have?" 

Empire looked sad and ashamed. "Well, now, I was telling Mr 
Olleroyd, not more than three weeks back, about a house a friend of 
mine mentioned to me — empty house, it was, all but one room on the 
second floor and one on the ground. There might have been some kind 
of an arrangement — " 

"Ah, but then I didn't say I was looking for a house," Olleroyd 
interposed. 

"And now it's gone?" Ed asked. 

"Well, practically, as you might say. At least, that's what they 
told me. There's just the deposit still owing^ by what I understand." 

Ed nodded. "I know, I heard about that one. Forget who — some 
bloke told me. Well, you won't forget old Qlleroyd if you hear of an- 
other one?" 

Empire said thoughtfully: "Of course, if this gentleman they tell 
me of is having a bit of difficulty over the deposit — " 

"What sort of deposit?" 

"Somewhere about ten pound, my friend said, the best I can re- 
member." 

"Ten quid! And two rooms out of four taken?" 

"Well, it was a case, you see, the old woman down on the ground, 
she was all ready to take herself off — wanted to go really — only nat- 



234 



urally she'd have expenses, seeing she's nothing only her Lloyd George 
money." 

"So ten quid covers the buy-out — all but the one room on top?" 

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. Not for the buy-out as well. I'd say he'd 
have asked for more like fifteen to include what the old lady wanted." 

Ed offered him a cigarette, threw one at Olleroyd and lit his own. 
"House business — it's right out of my road," he said through the 
smoke. "I'd have said that ten quid might do the whole job. Now, 
Olleroyd here, he might give a leg up to the old girl." 

"Mr Ed, he must have his little jokes!" Olleroyd repeated. "He 
knows as well as I do I got no money coming in at the present time, 
the fur trade being the way it is — " 

"You know," Ed told him with serious eyes, "if Mother Ardree 
heard of you giving Mr Empire two quid ten to help out a poor old 
woman, I shouldn't wonder but what she'd keep you another month 
or two, instead of doing what she was saying to me this morning." He 
pulled his trilby forward into the out-of-doors position and turned to 
Empire again. "Well, if you did hear of that house going again — ten 
quid opener and the old girl clean out of the down room — well, you 
might do worse than let me know. Olleroyd here '11 pass the word along, 
same time as he might want to see you about the two quid he was 
talking of. Pleased to have met you, Mr Empire!" He gave them both 
his amiable smile and shoved his way out to the street. 

So on a wet Tuesday morning, when Gian was at Hammersmith 
and Rosie bargain hunting down at Lewisham, Armorel found herself 
going towards Weald Street with Ed holding over her an ancient um- 
brella of Maria's. She walked, now, a little stiffly, the rain had damped 
her stockings and got into her shoes. But her carriage had scarcely 
altered, her calm face had the dignity of purpose, she nodded to Ed's 
chatter as agreeably as if he were exactly the escort she would have 
chosen. For one who spent some hours each day with the trickling 
voices of the Boughton girls such company was not, indeed, detestable. 
The words this creature uttered were not blown like spume from the 
crests of his mind, they came with vigour and point, with a certain 
art of his own, modulated for a lady's hearing. He was candid. He 
confessed that he had always lived an inch or two outside the borders 
of strict honesty, had tricked his way into one job after another, gath- 
ered a few quid on the side as he went along — what else? You had to 
live! Why hide it? And now that she was used to it his voice itself, 

235 



thin, nimble, slightly hoarse like the spare-time voices of street orators, 
did not positively displease her. Yes, you could make a bit on the 
cycling tracks, he said, if you kept your eyes and your ears open: you 
just had to know which of the items were fixed and which were not. 
'Left-overs' of linoleum, art drawings done from photographs, wine 
corks bought off servants and sold to hotel waiters, write-ups for private 
schools in sheets that nobody would hear of, there was cash in all those 
lines of business if you didn't stay at them too long. Not always quite 
the strait and narrow, that he would grant. And of course she couldn't 
approve. Neither did he, come to that. Only you got so many mugs 
about, queueing up and well-nigh weeping for someone to come and 
take it off them — well, if you didn't have their money the next man 
would, and the next man might be nothing but a downright rogue. He 
looked at her sidelong, finishing with a twist of his mouth and a trifling 
lift of his shoulders. No, he said with that quarter of a glance, he didn't 
expect a lady in her position to approve a man in his: but you're grown 
up, his eyes said, you're a woman of the world, you can see the funny 
side of it. He was suave, detached, faintly ironic. ''Yes, poor Mitch, 
the cops had him in the end. Funny thing, I had a sort of notion 
they'd be on to it, the day before it happened — that was the day I gave 
up my lodging and sent all my things down to old Jake to look after. 
Bad luck on young Mitch, him being the one that got pinched. I'd 
have stayed and helped him out, only I had business over at Newcastle 
and that was a job that couldn't wait." He shook his head mourn- 
fully. That kid Mitch was one he really had been fond of. Sad, the 
way life played you tricks like those. Tragic, when you came to think 
of it. But not quite so bad if you saw the funny side. 

''Oh, I should've told you," he said as they turned into the street. 
"This bug-trap we're going to look at, it's one of Empire's places. Yes, 
I know Gyan don't get along with Empire, but then you see he hasn't 
got to get along. No reason Gyan should know that Empire's in the 
deal at all. If there's got to be a ticket, well. Herb Evans signs on the 
top side of it — or Olleroyd, if you like — it don't really matter who 
signs it. Herb takes the cash — once a month'll suit everybody, seeing the 
deal's all as tidy as mother makes it — and for all anyone knows it's 
just a straight bind-in between him and you." 

It was not a point easy to argue with a man who had just told her, 
as if it were a part of normal education, how certain post offices could 
be induced to pre-date the postmarks on letters. And in any case there 

236 



was no time for argument. They came to No. i6A and Empire was 
standing at the door to greet them. 

He was sorry, Empire said, that his friend Mr Johnson who owned 
the house could not be there to show them over. Mr Johnson had asked 
him to do so on his behalf. Mrs Ardree must understand that the house 
was by no means in its best condition: the previous tenants had, un- 
fortunately, proved to be very careless people. Mr Johnson would, of 
course, put the place in perfect order just as soon as the necessary 
labour and material was available . . . His humility, this morning, 
was Ht with a special kindness. He did appear to be seeing the propo- 
sition from Armorel's point of view, to be honestly concerned to fit her 
up with a comfortable home; and it jarred upon her when Ed, standing 
half-way up the stairs with the face of a gourmet examining hounds' 
meat, kept knocking the damp, flaked wall beside him and muttering, 
^'Struth! Call this chicken-coop a bleeding house!" Yes, Empire ex- 
plained, there was an elderly gentleman already established in one of 
the upper rooms, but he had his own cooking stove and was the kind 
who gave no trouble whatever. Mrs Eustace, downstairs, would defi- 
nitely move out as soon as Mrs Ardree arrived — she had been plan- 
ning for some time to go and live with her sister-in-law in Plumstead 
Road. No, Mrs Eustace would not be the smallest trouble . . . And 
that at least seemed likely to be true, for Mrs Eustace, skinny and 
grey, found sitting listlessly beside the gas-cooker in the back room, 
revealed no sign of truculence. She looked with fleeting interest from 
one face to the other as animals look at the people who pass their 
cages and went on pulling an old cloth button to pieces. Her mouth 
was working loosely and jerkily, but she said nothing at all. 

"If I did decide to take the house I should want a written assur- 
ance that Mrs Eustace's interests had been properly cared for," Armorel 
said. 

Empire was absolutely certain that Mr Johnson would provide 
her with such an assurance. 

She had already made up her mind to have the place at almost 
any cost; for'she felt now that everything depended on getting away 
from Contessa Street, that any place she could call her own would give 
her a frame in which to build up Gian's life as she intended. There were 
distastes to be overcome: but she was not without practice in that 
exercise. 

She loathed the street, which looked its dismalest on this grey 

237 



morning: it had none of the crude variations which reheved the face of 
other streets close by, not one bay window, nowhere a raiHng or a row 
of struggling bushes between house and pavement. But that, to a realist, 
was of no account. The house itself was no more abject than its neigh- 
bours, and with a whole row to support it on either side it could not 
very well fall down. The smell, when she went inside, revolted her. She 
had got used to the odours of careless feeding and dirty clothes, but 
here was another, sweet and sickly, which for a moment reminded 
her of Empire's house in Bidault's Place. Well, that too was something 
a sensible person would disregard: a thorough cleaning, after all, would 
banish it for good. So they solemnly visited each of the small, square 
rooms in turn, she being bowed ahead, Ed with his hands in his pockets 
talking behind her, Empire and OUeroyd, who had unobtrusively joined 
the party, moving like pall-bearers in the rear. 

"This now," Empire said, "this would make you quite a nice room. 
Of course it looks empty without the furniture." 

"It looks lousy," Ed told him. 

Half the worn linoleum was up — rolled in a corner — and the 
scraped walls showed several layers of paper. There were broken chairs 
about and a good deal of broken glass clinging to bits of picture frame, 
an old stained mattress with its stuffing falling into a pool of grease, 
the remains of a mangle. 

"Would these go with the house?" Olleroyd asked politely. 

"Well, Mr Johnson might come to some arrangement." 

"I should like to see upstairs," Armorel said. 

They had to go carefully, one or two of the stairs were practically 
non-existent. Empire said that Mr Johnson would see to that. 

Mr Brodie was not at home, so they had a look in his room, Ed 
working the lock with a penknife. It was a crowded room, Mr Brodie 
appeared to need a vast amount of furniture, including a double and a 
single bed, two sewing machines and no fewer than nine budgereegahs 
in four cages. "He's the kind that wouldn't give you any trouble at all," 
Empire repeated. All over the larger bed there were skins of a raw 
appearance fastened to boards, which Olleroyd examined with interest. 
Armorel saw no reason to linger there and they moved on to the front 
room. 

This was where the paramount smell came from, the barber- 
tobacconist smell. A bottle of scent must have been spilt here, perhaps 
several bottles. There were, in fact, empty bottles all over the room, 
lotions on the window ledge, jars of face cream on the broken bed- 

238 



frame, bottles of Honey and Flowers, Modeste Amour, Moonlight of 
Araby, Charmantine, Baiser de Douces Vierges, scattered about the 
floor; and there were scraps of glazed chintz and most of a suspender- 
belt lying among the cigarette-ends and the torn pages of glamorous 
magazines. "Of course it»wants a bit of a clean-up," Olleroyd ventured 
to say. "And then," said Empire, "it would really make a very nice 
room. 

"And then there's the attic up above," he said. "There's rather a 
lot of stuff there now, but Mr Johnson'll clear all that away. That's 
going to make you quite a nice room." 

They went downstairs again, and through to the asphalt yard, 
where there was a closet with coke in it, a dressmaker's dummy and 
parts of bicycles. Empire and Olleroyd stood nervously side by side. 
The high, brick walls hid all the view except a cumulus of underclothes, 
there was nothing much to be said about this yard. 

As Armorel looked at Empire's embarrassed face she thought she 
could see what the issue really meant to this frail, impoverished crea- 
ture: whatever rent he got for this house would nearly all go to the 
man above him, it would need a dozen deals of this kind, a dozen long- 
drawn arguments over almost worthless properties, before he scratched 
together the extra few shillings needed to keep up the pathetic re- 
spectability of the little house in Bidault's Place, to buy a few small 
comforts for the woman lying all by herself upstairs. He was looking 
miserably at the dummy, only now and then giving a quick, shy glance 
towards her face. He had no overcoat, and his clothes looked very thin. 
She said suddenly: 

"How much a week do you want for this place?" 

He was startled by her abruptness. "Well, now, it's like this," he 
said. "Mr Johnson's got several different parties after this house. 
There's a gentleman in the printing trade — " 

"How much?" she repeated. 

Olleroyd said nervously, "Of course you know, Mrs Gian, Mr Em- 
pire here would rather you had it than anybody else — " 

"And then you see," Empire went on, "it's what you might call 
in a good position, no way to speak of from the buses — " 

Armorel said: "Yes, but, Mr Empire, all I want to know is the 
price." 

He nodded as if he understood. "Yes, I do really think it would 
make you a nice little home — " 

"Oh, it would that!" Olleroyd said. 



239 



" — I know the way it is, with a young lady that's got married, 
might be looking forward to a family of her own one of these days — 
if you'll pardon me speaking of such — naturally a young lady wants 
a place of her own, somewhere she can do up a bit and make nice. 
Now you take a little house like this. It's not a mansion, I'm not 
saying it is — " 

Ed said violently: "This young lady here's asking you what you 
want for this crike-orful shed. Will you for crisake tell her what 
you do want!" 

Empire breathed deeply. "Well, I couldn't say to within a shilling 
or two just what Mr Johnson would be asking, not with rents the way 
they are now. I do know he wouldn't take less than fourteen and six — " 

"Fourteen and what?" 

"Not less than fourteen and six." 

They were back in the passage, where the smell seemed to have 
increased. The wind came straight through the house, and the cus- 
tomary crowd had collected in the front doorway. Nervous, chilled 
and weary, Armorel framed the words "Very well . . ." 

She was stopped by Ed's laughter. He did not laugh often, he pre- 
ferred to greet the ludicrous with a tiny action of the muscles at the 
corners of his eyes and by taking up a stitch in his ductile underlip. 
But now he rocked and bellowed, he poked the unhappy Empire in 
the stomach and struck poor Olleroyd between the shoulder-blades. 
"Fourteen and bloody-six!" he squealed, with one incomparable gesture 
in which he seemed to sweep the house over, squeeze it into a pellet, 
chew it up and shoot it out through his left nostril, ''and a ten-quid 
put-down! D'you think Mrs Ardree here's a crackpot or just a plain 
ordinary Christmas Club! Charlie, boy, it's this one, single, solitary 
pig-box of a cart-shed Mrs Ardree was talking of, not the whole fuming 
block." And with that he sharply patted the cheeks of both the men, 
caught hold of Armorel's arm and wheeled her through the onlookers 
into the street. 

Empire followed, not seeming to hurry but managing to move fast, 
with Olleroyd still trotting behind, and in a few steps he caught up. 

"Mrs Ardree," he whispered, "there's something I'd just like to say. 
There was a bit of trouble, you'll remember, between me and your 
husband. Well, it wasn't any fault of mine, nobody had more liking 
and respect for your husband than I did. Only seeing we had that 
little bit of misunderstanding, well, when Olleroyd here tell me you was 



240 



looking for a nice little home, I thought I ought to give you the first 
chance on this house I hear of. You see, nowadays, with houses being 
so short — " 

For a moment Ed stopped whistling. He said in Armorel's free ear: 
"Sheer bleeding wholesale robbery! You don't know where you are 
these days. Bloke comes along with a likely proposition, next thing you 
find he's nothing but a low-down crook." 

" — You see, Mrs Ardree, if I was to take less than what Mr John- 
son's asking it would just have to come out of my own pocket. I'm a 
poor man, Mrs Ardree, I got a wife sick in bed, not been up for months, 
and my girl's no use for any sort of real work — " 

"Sheer downright swindle!" Ed muttered. "Get blokes nowadays 
that don't know what honesty means." 

" — One thing I do know, Mr Johnson won't come down a penny 
under ten bob. Of course I'd try all I could with him, I'd tell him it 
was a young couple looking for a home — " 

" — Not even pick out men to do their tricks on! Go hunting out 
a lot of helpless women and kids — " 

" — Mr Johnson, of course, he's as nice-hearted a gentleman as you 
would find, only he can't afford to lose money on that little bit of 
property, which is all he's got to live by." 

"And you know, Mrs Gian," Olleroyd panted, "that would make 
you a nice little house." 

They had reached the end of the street. Ed stopped so abruptly 
that the children following the party nearly fell over. He said without 
looking at anyone: 

"Seven and a tanner. Yes or no, it don't matter to me." 

Empire stood still with his mouth working. There were tears in 
his eyes. He said with difficulty: 

"It's hard, you know, Mr Hugg. With a wife ten months in bed. 
If you'd said nine and a half now — " 

Ed looked at Armorel. "There's ten quid got to go down first," 
he told her. "That's usual. Any time before Sunday. Then eight and 
six a week, and it's not worth half that." He shrugged his shoulders 
and left the ball in her hands. 

It was still raining. She looked at the gaping children and along 
the melancholy street. What she wanted now was to sit do^^^l; and she 
thought, In that house there would be a chair, and without asking 

241 



Maria if she was using the small kettle I should be able to make myself 
a cup of tea. She nodded to Empire. 

"All right, eight and six." She added, ''Thank you very much, Ed. 
You'll fix it up for me?" 

She smiled to Empire, still sorry for the way that Ed had bullied 
him, and went on to get the bus that would take her to Boughton's. 

"Your little home, too, one of these days," Ed said to Olleroyd 
when she had gone. 

The three men, talking comfortably about the afternoon's racing, 
made their way to the Richmond, where Ed bought the drinks with the 
poimd note which Empire handed over, one of the two which Empire 
had received from Olleroyd the day before. 

How sensible she had been! It was not even necessary to go to the 
Richmond to pay Herb Evans; she gave the money to Olleroyd each 
week and he brought her a receipt (sometimes on the back of an 
envelope, sometimes on a piece torn from the margin of a newspaper) 
which Evans had signed 'p.p. H.Johnson'; Empire's name never came 
into it and Gian had asked no questions. 

Since Mr Johnson's labour difficulties seemed to continue indefi- 
nitely they resolved to put the house in order themselves. She calculated 
that it would be ready for habitation two or three weeks before the 
Event. 

And the work gave them an immediate return of contentment 
which neither had foreseen. They were there on every free evening and 
for most of the time at week-ends (the whole of one week-end was 
occupied in clearing the attic alone) and during those many hours of 
labour they were seldom out of harmony; for they understood and 
accepted their separate functions, hers to make decisions, his to carry 
them out. There were things that Gian would have had quite differently 
(in the lunch hour he gazed with yearning at robustly flowered wall- 
papers in the King's Road windows) but clearly he did not dream that 
any choice of hers could be wrong. 

There was conflict only when Armorel tried to do her share of 
the harder work as well. When he had got a heavy box of rubbish 
down to the passage she wanted to drag it out into the yard, and 
protested that it would do her no harm. But he soon stopped her. 
On that issue alone he asserted a husband's authority with a vehemence 
that amused, pleased and occasionally frightened her. He was intensely 
nervous about her condition, supposing that the smallest physical exer- 



242 



tion would be disastrous; and when she tried to pick up something 
which he himself could have tossed in the air with one hand he would 
seize it from her with a roughness bordering on brutality. "You lay off 
that, Sue — understand!" Then he would spread his coat on a box for 
her to sit on, and smile shyly and happily so long as she remained there. 
She learnt by degrees to respect his absurd anxieties: for his own sake 
she would call him when anything weighing more than a pound or two 
had to be moved, and only when he was thoroughly absorbed, scrap- 
ing the encrusted dirt from the back-room floor, filling up holes in the 
walls by a method Stumper had taught him, did she venture to do some 
scrubbing herself. She fed him constantly with praise; and when she 
smiled with admiration at a section of wall he had rendered he would 
stop for a moment, look at her sidelong, draw his wrist across his face 
and permit himself a grin. But her encouragement was scarcely needed: 
she could see in his eyes, in the laconic gestures she had learnt exactly 
to decipher, how he rejoiced in the results of his handiwork; how he 
marvelled at the ligl^t brought in by polished windows and bright dis- 
temper, at the unimagined freshness. With such discovery the tiredness 
of long hours on the building site fell away. He attacked the jobs she set 
him as if his body had been idle all week, he whistled as he moved on 
hands and knees along the passage to scrub and then to stain the worm- 
eaten boards. When she made him a cup of tea with a kettle borrowed 
from Mr Brodie he stood and looked at the bit he had finished, and 
then at her face, with the pride of a child; he even lapsed into little 
jokes which she did her best to laugh at: "Reglar Bucknam Palace, it's 
turning out . . . That Johnson, he'll think he's hired the outfit to a 
gang of perishin' fairies, he'll be stickin' out for another two bob!" In 
those moments they shared the sun. 

But they were not always alone. There was carpentering to be 
done, and Simon took it on with enthusiasm though not always with 
success. He was unlucky in the timber he used, mostly odd bits ''that 
Mr Epsom give me," and the tools he brought always proved to be a 
little out of adjustment. "Of course," he said, "theatre carpentering, 
that's a different sort of trade, now," and he would speak regretfully 
of the faultless tools possessed by Jesse Guiseborough, the chips who 
had first taught him the craft. On fine Sundays Maria arrived in her 
remarkable hat and stood just behind him to titter and give advice. 
When he had put a new board in the stairs (the work of more than 
two hours) she used her weight to test it, and when it snapped whh 
a report like pistol fire she fell into helpless mirth, rolling and squealing 

243 



on the bottom step, gasping, "Si-mone — mio carissimo — you call himself 
a lovly carpentiere!" while huge, affectionate tears ran down her hot, 
fat cheeks and nose. At times like those the faithful presence of Olleroyd 
was invaluable. Too stiff and too obese to work himself, he served as 
Simon's mate and chief consoler ; when wood split or the heads of screws 
came off he would take him aside and talk as one man of experience 
to another. ''It's the wood you get these days, it's not like what it was 
before the war, it's all this foreign stuff, you see." And with delicacy 
he would nod towards the rolling and chuckling Maria as if she were a 
possession he had the honour to share. "A wonderful woman, your Mrs 
Ardree! Wonderful the way she can always see the interesting side." 
Ed was often about, keeping up a ribald commentary, and then there 
was Slimey, who had got to hear of the enterprise and came to lend 
a hand out of sheer good-nature. He and Simon got on well. For half an 
hour at a stretch they would stand nodding at each other, exchanging 
technicalities with gentle, inconclusive earnestness; while Maria, left to 
amuse herself, would go and stand over Gian, douching him with love 
and correction, or would proclaim her own ideas to the company at 
large. 

"Hereser will be a grant armadio forser sospon, hn?" 

"You mean you want shelves there, a sort of cupboard?" Olleroyd 
asked. 

Slimey came over, eager for some new thing. "Well, that'll mean 
pluggin' the walls. I couldn't rightly say if the walls 'd stand up to that. 
Got a bit o' chalk?" 

Simon fumbled. 'T got a bit o' pencil somewhere. A rare bit of 
wood that's going to take — half-inch it ought to be for the shelves — 
got to take the weight, see." He measured roughly, drew lines where he 
thought the ends of the shelves might come, and then altered them. 

"What would the shelves be for?" Brodie demanded from the skirt 
of the group. 

"For saucepans, Mrs Ardree here was saying." 

"An forse dustan broom." 

"But this ain't going to be the kitchen, not by what the young 
lady was saying to me." 

Slimey was testing the wall with his penknife. It was a wall that 
Gian had finished distempering the night before. 

"Or you could have it this way," he said. "Lend me that pencil, 
half a jiff." 



244 



''No!'' said Maria fiercely, "tsat is not what I mean!" 

One of the women who hovered all day about the front door came 
forward sympathetically. 

"I'll show you what she means. It's like the way Elsie Cupplegate 
had it, the time she had that room with Will Sandy. Gimme that pencil 
and I'll show y'." 

And then Maria was pleased; for though she loved to have men 
about her, things to be mocked and bussed and bullied, she found the 
lot of them incomparable fools and looked to her own sex for under- 
standing. The whiff of debate set light to her social powers, this stranger 
was immediately her oldest friend and they would fight together through 
thick and thin. Here was life, here was drama on the grand scale, and 
she herself, endowed with every gift of passion and command, was cast 
by Providence to be its epicentre. 

"Siss ladee, she sesat I am all right. Give it to me sehammer!" 
She uttered one fierce bark of laughter, she kissed the top of Slimey's 
head, she ran, flourishing her arms, propelled a box to the wall and 
surged upon it. "Simon, you holdse nail, where I tell, tseref" 

"Eh, but hsten now, Maria — I reckon I ought to ask Miss Susie — " 

''Hold it up sermil! Meestrolleroyd! Stand tsere — tserel — so for if 
I tomble . . ." 

So the arguments went on all morning, and the hubbub poured 
out into Weald Street, crowned with Maria's shrill commands and her 
high, explosive merriment. And this gave pleasure to a narrow street 
where the drunks lay in of a Sunday and the grey hush would be varied 
only by the sudden screams of children. The door of i6A was not 
yet fitted with a latch; such boundaries as obtained were not in force 
when rooms were still unfurnished, and where Maria was at large no 
boundaries could exist. The life of the street first lapped against the 
threshold and then crept inside. The women stood along the passage, 
chatting in undertones and smoking; children ventured into the back 
room and even up the stairs, where people of bizarre appearance were 
constantly moving up and down upon business with Mr Brodie. Through 
these groups and eddies Armorel picked her way with grimly guarded 
patience, ignoring the old women's speculative asides about her figure, 
murmuring, "Excuse me please ... If you wouldn't mind! .... 
No, Madre, I'm very, very sorry, but I'm not going to have shelves in 
this room at all." 

It was not in Gian to be vexed; he had known no home that 



245 



strangers didn't walk about in; he openly encouraged the ragged chil- 
dren, who, finding he kept a grin for them, and sweets in his pocket, 
were thickest wherever he was working. That, too, Armorel would 
tolerate, since their presence seemed to give him pleasure. There was 
only one occasion when the nerviness of pregnancy undermined her self- 
command. 

The trouble derived from a wood-and-wicker cabinet, an affair 
of wings and brackets and many artful embellishments, which Armorel 
had found in the front room and thrown into the yard. Maria, poking 
about for things of value, had brought it back; upon which Armorel 
had told her with great politeness that she did not want it in the house, 
and Maria, secretly, had given it to Simon to repair. On the next Sun- 
day a debate of more than usual vigour and prolixity was going on in 
the back room, and Armorel, coming downstairs to look for a pair of 
pincers, found the men, under Maria's excited directions, screwing the 
cabinet against the wall. She said quite calmly: 

"Papa Simon, will you please take that thing right away. And 
please fill up the holes you've made. I've said that I don't want it any- 
where in the house." 

Maria said: "But sissis so pree-tee! You put allse pitcher, seflower, 
s'ornamento — " 

"I'm sorry, but I just happen not to like it." 

The men stood back, staring at their hands. Simon looked ready 
to weep. Maria took three short paces towards Simon, snatched a screw 
and the screwdriver from his hands and continued the work herself. 

Armorel returned to Gian upstairs. She was just able to get out 
her words: "Gian, are we getting this house ready for ourselves or for 
your mother? Do I have any say at all? Because if not she can have 
it and I'll go — somewhere else." Then, standing against the window, 
without noise, she wept. 

Gian went slowly downstairs. His mother was working on the 
screw with the kind of energy she used for tackling vermin when that 
was her whim. The others had not changed their positions. Simon tried 
to speak, "Been a bit of a misunderstanding — " and then gave up. With 
his eyes he said, "You see how it is — your mother — my son's wife — " 

For several seconds Gian himself was dumb. Then, turning upon 
the Slimey group, he let fly. 

"You get out, all you! Clutterin' up the place! This is my house, 
see! Too many of you, comin' clutterin' round!" 

246 



The men shrugged their shoulders and wandered in an untidy 
file to the street, leaving Simon and Maria behind. Maria, grimly 
relishing the situation, went on with her work, while father and son 
looked hopelessly at each other. In the silence which had come upon 
the house they could hear Armorel sobbing. 

Olleroyd, last in the withdrawal, had lingered by the street door. 
He turned now. He had seen Simon's face when Maria snatched the 
screwdriver, and Simon, after all, was one who had treated him well. 
With that curious motion of his, a stage caricature of a nobleman's 
dignity, he travelled slowly back, sucking the ends of his moustache, 
to where Gian stood near the foot of the stairs. There he arranged his 
loose dentures in a smile. 

''Now it wouldn't do," Olleroyd said, "for any little misunder- 
standing to come between a young fellow and his ma. It's natural," 
he said, "you don't get the ladies all seeing things the same way. Mrs 
Gian, you see, she been brought up rather fancy, as you might say — " 

But by then he had given Gian what Gian required. 

With his body tightening like a cat's, Gian said: "You, that's 
enough out of you!" His skin had lost all colour and his eyes were like 
frosted glass. "Get outa here!" he yelled. "You — you get out." 

For once quick off the mark, Simon jumped forward and held 
him; tightly, by the arms and the cross-over of his braces; till the 
murderous fit had passed and he fell into violent shivering and then 
tears. 



24 

T 

JLuE INCIDENT left him subdued and more than usually shy. For 
several days he hardly said a word at Contessa Street except in answer 
to questions. He gave Olleroyd a packet of cigarettes, with so gauche 
a gesture that a stranger would have thought he meant to insult him. 
It did not make much difference. The household at Contessa Street 
was not one to be depressed by the silence of one of its members, and 
at St John's Hill, where he was working now, they did not depend on 
young Ardree for social liveliness. In both these compartments of his 
life he was left, sensibly enough, to get over his sulks or whatever his 



247 



wan taciturnity might imply. As for his wife, she treated the malady 
as if it were physical and simply increased her gentleness. She had told 
him, after the storm, that she was sorry to have made a fuss. Having 
said that, she did not discuss the incident further or ask him any ques- 
tions. What would be the use of saying 'Gian, why are you unhappy, is 
there still something wrong?' She did not even know for certain that 
he was unhappy, and he would hardly realize what she meant by such 
a question. What more could she do than surround him with her kind- 
ness? 

No one outside his own circles would have noticed anything peculiar 
in his expression. Passing him in the street you might have thought the 
face was striking, with a mouth suggesting truculence and the eyes a 
shamefaced timidity; but he was palpably of foreign extraction, and 
in foreigners a sullen look might signify nothing at all. In a maritime 
city of that size a man must go to extremes of oddity, before he is 
remarkable: with little Korean women chaffering in the New Kent 
Road, with puggarees and Franciscan habit in the tubes, you do not 
pay much attention to a tic or an outlandish beard. This variegation 
affords a kind of privacy. People may declare their love in Ludgate 
Circus, a homesick girl can blubber in her sleeve as the tram jolts 
through Camberwell, and no one will turn his head to look. The young, 
slightly foreign-looking workman had the London gait; without ap- 
pearing to look either way he would cross over Newington Causeway 
with a narrow margin of safety and swing himself on a bus already in 
second gear, mechanically scoop out his twopence and stick the ticket 
inside his cap. Balanced with one knee against the end of a seat he 
would gaze through the outworks of a girl's hat at the cheerless fabric 
of Wandsworth Road and see, as Londoners do, nothing at all. Once in 
a week somebody — a woman most likely — might glance with curiosity 
at such a man ; by chance someone of the speculative mind would stare 
at him long enough to wonder what sort of life he belonged to, a young 
fellow so aggressively detached. Following him along the pavement you 
might have wondered at his sudden hesitations, his habit of stopping 
and looking about him like one who fears pursuit or has forgotten 
where he is. But that, again, was an eccentricity barely remarkable in 
a place where the squeeze of living must engender some curiosities in 
behaviour. In working dress he blended well enough with the dun 
brickwork which prevails in that jungle, he was a background figure, 
an item of that breathing litter which is swept about the city's channels, 

248 



heaped and re-dispersed, to serve as corpuscles from which the dead, 
mechanic mountain derives the semblance of life. 

Yet when Nibbley Toms saw him waiting for his bus at the Ele- 
phant he said: "How go, Toughie boy— what's up with you? Look like 
an ole doughnut somebody stepped on, that's what you look like to 
me!" 

It happened that in the week after this encounter he found him- 
self with an evening unexpectedly free. He was attending night school 
in Bewley Street now, where a Mr Duckett taught him multiplication 
of money by practice and what was wrong with the sentence 'The doctor 
done him no good' ; and when he arrived for the Friday class there was 
a notice on the board to say that Mr Duckett was ill. ''Well, on Mon- 
day," a fellow student said complacently, "we'll know if the doctor done 
him good or not," and they went their several ways. Gian sauntered 
in the direction of Weald Street, where Susie would be working on cur- 
tains. 

This was one of the occasions when he seemed a prey to impulse. 
He had not gone far before he halted and changed his direction, and 
from that point he walked faster, looking straight ahead, like a man 
late for an appointment. But having reached Mickett Lane he stopped 
again a few yards short of Coronation Building. There he stood for 
perhaps three minutes, leaning against a wall as in the old days. His face 
betrayed no sign of thought; he might have been a marionette waiting 
for a fresh jerk on one of the strings to set him in motion. The jerk 
presently came, a mild one: he turned and went off in his former, 
lackadaisical fashion towards Hollysian House. 

There was another interval of irresolution when he came out of 
Bait Lane. He stood beside a railway truck, just as Armorel had once 
seen him standing, sucking a cigarette which had gone out, looking 
at nothing in particular and patiently waiting, one had said, for the end 
of the world. But at last he stirred again, crossed over the yard and 
went slowly, negligently, up to the Club. 

He asked the first boy he saw — one he didn't know — if Mr Grist 
was in. "In his room," the boy said. "Came back yesterday, look like 
a fumin' corpse." Gian went on across the gym. 

They all saw him then. "Oy, it's Toughie!" they said. "\\Tiat, 
ole Toughie come back!" "Miss Susie turn you out, Toughie boy?" 
"Not the coppers after y' again!" They formed a little crowd round 
him, hitting him on the backside and offering cigarettes. ''Well, what do 



249 



it feel like, Toughie?" "Brought the wife and kids?" "How many little 
Toughies you got now, Tough?" For their approach to the topic of 
marriage was like that of the Book of Common Prayer. Then Flock saw 
him and came over. 

"Well," he said, "if that ain't that perishin' Ardree! Hans in his 
pockets as per usual. Well, here's another of 'em all run to seed, I 
reckon. Caam on, Ardree lad, hold your head up, life ain't as bad as 
all that! Miss Spinyer been knockin' yer about? What you want to do, 
lad, is get them shoulders back, an' knock off some of them perishin' 
fags, get me. Might last out another year or more if you treat y'self 
careful!" 

Gian grinned sheepishly and went on into Trevon's room, where 
the Interview Hour was in progress. 

There was one boy playing draughts with Trevon, one sitting in 
the sink and reading the evening paper, while the Fidgley brothers, 
muttering "Cor, that was a foul!" "Well, you hit me below the bloody 
nivel!" were happily wrestling underneath the table. Trevon looked up 
and said, "Why, it's Gian! God, it's nice to get a sight of you again!" 

The boy who had said that Trevon was like a corpse had not erred 
very far: Gian himself, not one to be much affected by men's appear- 
ance, was startled when he saw the change. Trevon's body had shrunk 
like a punctured tyre, so that his suit, never a good fit, now looked like 
a father's clothes passed on to a schoolboy son. The fat of his face had 
gone, leaving its structure cadaverously sharpened; the eyes seemed to 
have sunk further into their cavities, the lips to have been unpicked and 
more tightly sewn; and where his skin had formerly been blotched and 
unhealthy it was all of one colour now, the colour of paper in old books. 
This was a curious experience, to find a familiar personality so dis- 
guised: like hearing from behind the false whiskers of fancy dress the 
voice of a friend. The twitch was still there, and all the nervous mech- 
anism of the body; but it was slowed and softened, the voice quiet- 
ened, the movement of head and hands fatigued. His laughter came 
more gently. Only the half-cocked, rather painful smile was the same. 

"Huff you, James!" Trevon said, and removed a king. "You don't 
know Gian Ardree, do you — before your time. He's gone and married 
into the bloated artistocracy, the old snob. Still, you wouldn't blame 
him if you'd seen the girl. I'd have married her myself only I hadn't 
the looks. Dark horse, you know, this old Ardree!" 

The tone was scarcely altered; and in a style of his own he could 
convey affection with his raillery, affection that would make boys shy 



250 



if it came in any other dress. With only the tail of an eye on the 
draughts-board he was scrutinizing Gian as minutely as a doctor would, 
noting the improved barbering of his hair, the tidiness of collar and 
tie. And Gian knew that he was being inspected, and was not put out. 
The smell of the place and its hollow uproar came gratefully to his 
senses: this was home-coming of a kind. Only a few months had passed 
since he last sat in this chair, but within that segment of time lay the 
dread ordeal at Finchley, the long nightmare of the North View Hotel; 
and here was wonder, to return from such a voyage to a country where 
scarcely anything had changed. Flock, upon some excuse, had come in 
now and was standing as he always did in this room during shop hours, 
strictly at attention. 

"Sorry I didn't dust the chairs, Mr Grist, sir. Would've done if 
I'd known Mr Ardree was paying you a call. Trouble about this West 
End tailorin', you know Mr Grist, sir, the dust get into it something 
horrible. (You, young perishin' Fidgley, you come out from squeakin' 
and squawkin' under there!) Put 'em out, shall I, this lot here, sir? 
Doctor said you was to be kept quiet and laxative in soul an' body, 
get me, sir." 

The door crashed open and two more boys shot in. 

"Been an accident. Sergeant! Young 'Ooper, he's fallen off the 
'orizontal, we think he's broke his leg." 

"That Hooper!" said Flock, not stirring: the joke was six years 
old. "ril break his perishin' leg." 

"He really is bad, Sergeant. Cryin' like a pig at the butcher, God's 
truth he is." 

"I'll make you cry like a pig in the butcher. An' I won't have 
no swearin' in this club, what is paid for by a squad o' bishops and 
other God-fearin' personnel. Not in Mr Grist's presence I certainly 
won't. Nor in Mr Ardree's presence neither, now he's been and signed 
on with the perishin' gentry." 

"Oh, it's Tough Ardree, is it!" said Ormison, grinning over their 
heads hke a Hghthouse. "Beg pardon, Sergeant — mistook him for the 
Prince of Wales. The light ain't too good in here." 

"Smash y' face in for another one like that," Gian said auto- 
matically, without ill-humour. 

"Cor, listen to Toughie! That ain't the way they teach you to 
talk in the Burkley Hotel, surely it ain't!'' 

"What you done with Susie?" the elder Fidgley asked, mopping 
the blood from his nose. 



251 



"Yes, why ain't you brought her? We miss Miss Susie round here. 
You get blokes. like Fidgley here puttin' their names in the wrong 
register, makin' the Club a byword an' a mockery." 

"Yep," said Gian, "I reckon you could do with.my wife back here. 
Keep yer in order!" 

"They can do with that!" Flock said. 

"Reckon she kep you in order, besides," Gian told him calmly. 
And amidst the "Cor!" and the "Listen to 'im!" he put himself to the 
expense of a smile. 

He leant back and rested one foot on his knee, he frowned at the 
well-polished shoe, savouring his wit. The absurdity of coming here in 
a sports jacket, clean and carefully ironed, no longer troubled him; 
now that the first embarrassment was over it actually increased his 
confidence, like having won a quid on the St Leger. The familiar voices 
played upon him warmly. Yes, there were changes: Mr Grist so worn 
and still, quietly laughing all the time but never bursting out and shout- 
ing the whole lot down; and it made a difference, as they were saying, 
Susie not being in her place. He would never have acknowledged it, 
but just now he was glad to have her gone. It increased his freedom. 
Here you could talk as you liked, sniff, clear your guts, and never feel 
that you were adding one more pebble to the load of anyone's patient 
endurance. 

"Naoh!" he said in answer to Terence Hubbitt. "Nothing in it, 
them stuff-shirt hotels. You knock over a cup o' char — who cares? Jus' 
tiddle the bell, an' a bloke come an' mop it up. Easy!" He changed his 
legs, put one foot on the table and tilted back his chair. Even Flock was 
listening with attention. "Bung up with perishin' ole tarts, natrally. 
Well, you don't mind them. Do a bit of how-de-do, pick up their 
snitchers when they drop 'em, open the doors for 'em, shut the doors 
after 'em, 'Pleasure is all mine, who's the next customer?' Coupla 
fumin' kids one of 'em had — knocked 'em about somethin' horrible. I 
tell her one day, I say 'That's no way to treat them kids, an' you know 
it!' 'Crikel' she say. 'That's a piece of fumin' sauce,' she say, 'can't I 
do as I like with my own bleedin' kids!' she say." 

He commanded his audience now, the audience he had never had in 
his life. He was standing up, he kicked the chair away and in an instant 
he had passed from the being of Gian Ardree into that of Mrs Cupwin; 
not the floss, frustrated Mrs Cupwin of reality but a creature that rose 

252 



from his kindling fancy, a twisting giantess, a princess of Edwardian 
grandeur, a flaming hell-cat guarding with tooth and claws the right to 
torture her young. 

"'Listen!' she say, 'I'll put my husband on to you! Knock the 
liver 'n' lights out of you, my husband will! ' Well, then, in come her ole 
man, just as she say the word. Little bloke about so high, couldn't 
see over that table. 'This bloke been insultin' me,' she says. 'Well,' I 
says to her, 'the poor bloke can't hit me from where he is now. You 
better put the little b — on the pianer,' I tell her. So we stick him up 
on the pianer, and she hang on to the bum of his trouses to keep him 
fixed, and I stand up close in case the little bastard fall down an' get 
hisself broke. Nex' thing I know, the little perisher up an' give me all 
he got, right here on the trap. ' 'Ere, wait a bit!' I says. 'Crike!' he says, 
dancin' about an' suckin' hisself an' carryin' on like a load o' barmies, 
an' nex' thing, the ole tart she come on at me a masterpiece. 'You c — !' 
she says. 'You look what you done!' she says. 'You been an' broke his 
fumin' hand!' " 

It went all over the Club, it reached the Quiet Room and the 
billiard room and the carpenters' shop downstairs. "You seen ole 
Toughie?" they said. "He's goin' on like a circus." "Cor, what that 
Susie done to him! Dress him up like a fumin' peacock, done him all 
over with sandpaper, college accent an' all the rest, an' he come on here 
and give out the 'istry of his life like a fumin' conjuror. Cor, you 
oughter come an' listen to him — Happy Days I Spent in the Riz 
Hotel, How I Knock Out Joe Beckett with One Biff from my Top Hat — 
coo, you'd think it was the Daily Fumin' Mail!" They liked him in this 
new role, they brought him such drinks as the Club afforded, "Goo on! " 
they said, with admiration mixed in the chaff, "tell Higgins here about 
the tart what thought you was Lloyd George! " till his newfound powers 
had all run out, and he sank a little way into his former shyness, but 
happily, smiling with wonder at his celebrity, nodding in a comfortable 
fashion to these people who, once trivial features in a familiar scene, 
had come back to him in the soft warm hues of ancient comradeship. 
When eleven o'clock had passed, and Flock with his accustomed sar- 
casms had chivvied the last loiterers out into the yard, he stayed to 
smoke a final cigarette while Trevon polished off the day's corres- 
pondence. And his face, as he watched the smoke twisting, was that of 
a man home from a long campaign. 



253 



Trevon got up and fastened the window-catch and took his hat off 
the handle of the cupboard. 

"Now I go home too." 

"You don't sleep here now?" 

"No, my friends think I ought to live as if I were a civilized being. 
IVe got a room — two rooms in fact. (I've been in hospital, you know.) 
Come and see them." 

"Well, Susie might be wondering where I've got to." 

"Yes, she'll think you've been run over, and she'll get a hell of a 
shock when she finds you haven't. It's not much out of your way, any- 
how. You know Mickett Lane?" 

In the warm, clear night they set off at Trevon's old pace, but 
before they got as far as Flanders Street he had to ease up. 

"It's odd," he said, "I don't feel ill now, I feel just the same, only 
other things have changed. The stairs up to the Club have got steeper 
and there seem to be more of them. It puts me in a shocking temper. 
Yes, I've had quite a time — I got ill shortly after your wedding. They 
had me booked to peg out, as a matter of fact, only I somehow didn't. 
I suppose that would have been too easy a solution — in life you don't 
get any easy solutions. Tell me, how is Susie? Why don't you bring 
her to see us?" 

Gian said shortly: "She's all right." They had covered another 
fifty yards before he added, "No, she ain't all right," and then in one 
long stream: "I didn't ought to have done it, and there you are. Don't 
make any difference, any think I say now. I'd go to clink for it, I would 
'n' all. Clink ain't no think. Only that wouldn't do her no good." 

"But what is the bother, old thing?" 

**I put her in the family way." 

They were at the corner of Donnier Street, and the bright light 
from Macqueen's Supper Room was on their faces. Trevon had to turn 
his head away sharply. But he saw, in an instant, that there was nothing 
comic in this. He said gently, holding Gian by the collar and rocking 
his head: 

"But, my dear old thing, that's what a husband's for. That's what 
they expect, it's what they want." 

"She ain't fit for it," Gian persisted, in a voice that sounded angry, 
"not a chip of a kid like that. I do' know why I done it. She never been 
used to anythink like that." 

2S4 



Trevon stopped dead. The crowd released from the New Victoria 
was all about them, but he never took any notice of crowds. 

"Balls!" he said. "My dear Gian, little tiny twits of women 
produce one great thumping child after another and feel all the better 
for it." 

That was like calling 'Cheer up, chum!' to a man dying from 
cancer^ Gian said huskily, as they went on: "It ain't that, you see. 
You see, she got gravel enough for anythink. It ain't that. See how it 
is — she c'd get it off her own kind of bloke, an' that would be all right. 
Mean t'say, a kid like that, she want a sort of a silky, know what I 
mean, got to be a bloke with schoolin' 'n' that, not a sort of a hairy 
bloke out of Contessa Street." 

"Listen," Trevon said, when they had turned the next corner. 
"You're a very nice bloke, and I don't mean you're any stupider than 
I am, but there are some things you've simply not begun to get hold of. 
Now look here, if you weren't the right sort of bloke for Susie she 
wouldn't have had you. For God's sake get that into your head. Susie 
isn't a fool, she's a very clever girl indeed. She knows all about the 
silkies, she's seen dozens of 'em, she's had 'em chasing her and wanting 
to marry her. One of them was a college professor, and I'm told he was 
as good-looking a bloke as you'd ever see, with a D.S.O. and all the rest 
of it. He asked her, and she sent him off with a flea in his ear. You 
asked her and she said 'Snap!' " 

That was useless too. 

"Y'see," Gian said, his speech rushing and stumbling, "she got me 
wrong. She thought I only had to have a bit of schooling an' that, an' 
I'd be just the same as what she was used. Put me in the building trade, 
see — well, that's all right, I got the hang on that, they put me on a 
skill job now when I ain't hardly started, use m' hands as well as the 
nex' bloke, shouldn't wonder — only she got the notion I'm to do a sort 
of clurk's job, see, all fixed up in a drawin'-office, bloke what see the 
customer and make out the plan the way he likes. Well, you got to have 
y' words right for that, 'n' a lot of figurin' an' such. Well, I go along 
under that perishin' Duckett, an' what's the use of that! You've only 
got one life, a bloke can't learn all that, not if you've got to make a 
livin' 'n' that. She been all right to me, I didn't mean to do her no 
wrong. I reckon it all come out of havin' muck 'n' all in y' thoughts. 
Well, I reckon no one ever tell me the way out of that." 

Trevon said: "No — God knows how you get out of that!" 

255 



He was cursing himself for being a sick man. Through the skelter 
of jostling words he could see a good way down into the thoughts of the 
youth wandering and all but blubbering beside him, and at his normal 
power he would have known what to say next. He didn't, now. It had 
been a habit of his, passing through the gymnasium, to seize the rings 
and pull his chest up to their level: on returning from hospital he had 
found it an effort even to hang from them. That feebleness seemed to 
have touched his brain as well. He could run the Club all right: do the 
letters and accounts, make the everyday decisions. This needed a 
brighter, steadier flame, and the fuel was no longer there. He said, 
stopping and opening a door which was on the l^tch : 

"I'll make some tea or something, then we'll talk. My head's not 
frightfully good." 

Gian followed him into the house, where the door beside the foot 
of the stairs opened and a grey woman popping out her head said, 
"Oh, is that you, Mr Grist, that's all right!" He noticed, remotely, how 
very slowly Trevon went up the stairs; and he noticed also that some- 
thing about the house was familiar: it was the one that Armorel had 
hustled him into to keep him clear of the police. 

A light showed under the door at the top of the stairs. Trevon was 
saying, "Now how in hell did I come to leave that on! " when it opened, 
startling them both. Looking past Trevon's arm Gian saw a woman 
standing there in outdoor clothes and heard her say: "I was round this 
way so I thought I'd just get you some supper — it's by the fire. I've 
got to hurry back now." 

Exhausted by the dozen stairs, Trevon leant against the lintel, 
blinking at the light. He said feebly: "You shouldn't have done that. 
It's terribly kind." 

Gian had turned and was trying to slip away. Trevon called him. 
"Gian, come on! This is a very nice person called Mrs Kinfowell." 

Elizabeth turned her smile to him. "You wouldn't know my name," 
she said quickly, "but I'm a friend of Armorel's — I'm Elizabeth. We did 
meet for a moment or two at your wedding." 

Gian nodded and said, "Pleased to meet you, m'm! " but this was 
more than he could deal with. The evening had taxed him heavily 
enough, with its sense of truancy, the ordeal of facing old acquaintances, 
the struggle to pay out in sentences the barbed tangle that lay inside; 
and now, without warning, he was faced by a creature of infinite deli- 
cacy and grandeur who behaved as if he were one of her own kind. He 
could not even find the words to get himself away. 

256 



"See how it is," he mumbled, looking half-way between them, 
"very kind, only Miss Susie she'd be wondering, I reckon. Thank-y', 
Mr Grist." 

He had one glimpse, as he turned, of the simple room: the fire, 
the shaded light on roughly carpentered bookshelves; a room of which 
the walls had possessed some meaning for him once. With another nod 
he stumbled off down the stairs. 

But the solitude he wanted now was denied him. He had only gone 
a few yards down the street when he heard the door open and shut 
again, and light steps running. The woman was coming after him. She 
called "Mr Ardree!" and he stopped. 

"Yeh?" he said. 

She said, "I'm going your way as far as the main road — can I come 
with you? This isn't a terribly nice street to be in at night." 

"Nothing wrong with it," he said as they walked on together, 
"not this street. Biddle's Place now, back there, you want to keep clear 
of that." 

"I've been there this evening," she told him. 

^'What! Biddle's Place?" 

"Yes, I've been to see a friend of mine. Oh, of course, you know 
her — I met her at your wedding first of all. Daise Empire." 

He was slow at getting hold of this. "Daise?" he said; and a few 
moments afterwards, "I knew her dad, I worked under him." 

"Oh, I've only seen him once. I've usually been in the afternoon — 
I read to Daise's mother sometimes. She hasn't got much to entertain 
her, poor thing. Of course Daise is awfully good with her." 

"She all right — Daise?" he asked. 

"Yes, I think she's quite well." 

"Huh-huh!" 

Sfie asked him: "What do you think about Trevon? Of course / 
think it was sheer madness to let him go back to work. He should have 
had at least a month's convalescence. I suppose they found him a diffi- 
cult patient at the hospital — that sort of man always is." 

"I ain't heard what he got wrong with him," he said. "I ain't 
seen him before tonight." 

It was her turn to fall silent; and they did not speak again until 
they reached the main road, where she took her leave. 

"I'm going to wait here and hope for a taxi," she said. "IVe had 



257 



rather a tiring day. Listen, you'll give my love to Armorel, won't you! 
And I wish you'd bring her to see me — she knows where I live." 

''She don't do much visitin'," he said. 

''Well, I suppose we must say 'Good-night'!" 

"Goo'-night!" 

She watched him sauntering off in the direction of the Elephant; 
leaving me, she thought, as if I were a bus he has just got down from! 
Then, as he reached the next lamp, she was surprised to see him stop 
and turn round. 

He came slowly back and stood in front of her, quite silent, and 
looking at her feet, so that for one moment she was faintly scared. 
Then he murmured something which she had to ask him to repeat. 

"Weald Street," he said. "Sort of a house we're going to — have 
it to ourselves, most of it. You could come round there, see. See Susie 
'n' all. i6A, it is." 

"Of course!" she answered. "I'd love to come." 

But he seemed unsatisfied. 

"See how it is," he said, after another silence, "she'd want some- 
one to talk to her, nor I wouldn't know how. A sort of lady like your- 
self, see how it is." 

She understood perfectly. "I shall enjoy it so much," she said. 
"She and I haven't had a talk for ever so long." 

And still he stood looking at her feet, working his mouth, fishing 
for something else that lay in his thoughts. He said at last: 

"Then, y'see, you could likely tell me the way I ought to go on. 
See what I mean? I mean, I got to do right by her, best I can. Only 
I reckoned you oughter know — you being a friend of Mr Grist's — Mr 
Grist don't know just anyone as his friends, see what I mean." 

Why to me? she thought: he has hardly seen me, I've only been 
a shape walking at his side: why to me, always to me? But her im- 
pulses worked as if no confidence like this had ever been given to her 
before, and she only managed to say, putting her hands on his shoulders, 
"I understand, Gian, I do understand!" 

With that he did seem to be satisfied, and after one slow, frightened 
look at her face, a sculpture of compassion in the faint light of the 
street, he went off again without trymg to say anythmg more. 



258 



25 



jV. 



0, they had only been peeling him, them Fidgleys and that lofty 
Ormison with a tart's grin always stuck on his mug. Same as before. 
Come down to it, he was a short-arsed bloke with a mug like a gorilla 
and his thatch more like what you'd see on a nigger than any ordinary 
bloke's. Like a Grindie's, come to that, though they didn't try that on 
him any more. So of course it was better than a circus, the way they 
look at it, him toggled in with Susie; flash dosses and all the rest. They 
weren't seeing the blind side of nothing, they knew how it was, him 
standing on that carpet outside the bedroom door, wishing to crike a 
flash of lightning come and strike him dead. See it himself, come to 
that, supposing another bloke go getting toggled outside his class. And 
a Grindie at* that. Good as a Punch and Judy. 'How are y', Toughie! 
Nice to see you, Toughie! ' Not so green as he couldn't see the back side 
of that. 

And yet there was a vein of happiness, a sensuous warmth of the 
emotions, as he went on slowly towards the Elephant: with the street 
almost empty now, only a cop flashing the doors of the shops and a 
single drunk crooning to himself against the post office wall. A shower 
earlier in the evening had left the roadway moist, the tramlines were 
threads of silver under the high lamps. At this hour sounds were sepa- 
rate and clear, as you hear them when lying in harbour; the air, loosed 
from the smells of oil and ferment, belonged again to the sky. In still- 
ness this city of his possession calmed him, and he caught from its 
stertorous sleep a faint tingle of bravery. 

He was tired, and when he turned off at Wilson's auction rooms 
the stages of the evening had lost their boundaries, leaving it an almost 
formless memory of excitement, of mingled contentment and fear. How 
shameless to talk to Mr Grist like that, to give himself away, like being 
sick on the pavement. But like being sick it had relieved him. With 
another bloke like yourself you couldn't talk that fashion, he'd look 
at you the way as if there was something wanted tightening and he'd 
pass it on to the boys. Nor yet you couldn't give it off on an educated 
bloke, like Mr Duckett, say (or Susie, come to that), because a gent 
like Mr Duckett never put his mind on that class of fancying at all. 
Mr Grist, he might answer or he might say nothing: he didn't look 
at you, leastways he didn't look at you like any other bloke — 'Crike, 



259 



you must be balmy! Call that a headpiece you got, what ain't nothing 
but a nine-inch sewage pipe! Time you got a hold on yourself and read 
y' fumin' Bible!' — he only looked as if you tell him a bit of bad news 
what was interesting just the same, like what you get in the Sundays. 
'Might happen to you or might happen to me': that was the kind of 
notion you got off Mr Grist. Pity, in a way, about the skirt showing up. 
Might have got a bit more in the way of an answer with Mr Grist all 
to himself, sitting there comfortable. A nice room it look, so much as 
he'd seen. Not a silky sort of room, like what Susie was after fixin' 
up. But a room a bloke would feel all right in — better than what Mr 
Grist had at the Club. 

''Well what if I am late! " he replied to Ed, who was still sprawling 
in the kitchen doing calculations in the margin of the Star. "Don't have 
to report myself to you, do I! Or punch a clock in this place! Susie 
gone up?" He found her in bed and nearly asleep. "I knocked into Mr 
Grist," he told her. "Got talkin'." 

*'0h, I see. Yes, Trevon's a fearful talker," she said. 

Born out of the street's darkness, it remained the clearest picture 
of that evening, the room he had seen for just a few moments: the 
shaded light warming the colours of books, old crimson carpet slippers 
on a bedside rug. And Trevon's exhausted face, as he dropped into a 
basket chair, that was so sharp an image it would stay for a time in 
Gian's memory, the look of a man beaten and bewildered, the faint, 
surrendering smile. The woman's face, turned away from the light, he 
had hardly seen at all: it came into that picture, obscurely, as a form 
shaped in snow, darkly framed in the close cornice of hair and the silk 
foliage of her neck. Her voice he recalled as something separate, a 
thread of warmth which had seemed to come without the mechanism 
of tongue and lips: . . . Vm Elizabeth . . . 

"We met at your wedding," she had told him. At the wedding? 
Vaguely, he felt he had known that shadowed face before, and even 
heard that voice. But not, surely, in all that confusion, not in a trim 
suburban garden. The scene that gathered round her, faint like old 
painting, had a brown wall and a line of gnarled trees. 

His mind cleared a little, as with clouds rising, while he was at 
work. He was on a fancy job now, a window shaped like a shell, where 
he could use some cunning that Stumper had taught him; high up 
again, thirty feet or more above street level, so that he saw the funnels 
of steamers passing and over his shoulder the trees on Clapham Com- 

260 



mon; and with the weather becoming more gentle your thoughts ran 
pleasantly here. At half-past ten on any fine mornmg a mob of chil- 
dren tumbled out like gooseberries from the little school he could see 
in Pillage Road, where an aged teacher formed them up like soldiers 
and marshalled them across the street to the park. Sometimes he took 
his lunch bag over there, so he could watch them at their games ; and by 
degrees he collected nerve enough to address their governess, who sat 
and knitted on the seat beside him. Yes, they were nice children, she 
told him, her loosely-articulated eyes swivelling to right and left as if 
there were spies in all the bushes; but often so very difficult, down- 
right naughty at times. That little Mellarby, for instance, in the green 
knickers, a regular terror he could be. Of course, it was all on account 
of his father ... At four o'clock, when the children were formed up 
again and marched back to school, he waved to them with his trowel; 
occasionally one of them saw him — as a rule, the villainous Mellarby — 
and a grubby handkerchief was waved in reply. 

A brown wall and the grey-green, twisted trees. The sky like blue 
glass lit with electricity. And now, sharply in the heavy and still air, 
the intermittent, cracked note of a bell. 

"Beautiful thoughts, Ardery?" "Don't you talk to him, Bert, else 
he can't concentrate. Can't you hear, the angels is calling him. Get him, 
too, if he step back another half a yard!" 

He grinned, he hked this gang. And almost at once, with the grin 
floating away, he was back among the twisted trees. 

Not that it mattered, and he wasn't puzzling about it* the scene 
developed by itself, like an autumn landscape, as he shaped a brick to 
fit the corner where a curve and a straight line met, as he paused to 
look across the factory smoke at the refreshing green of the common. 
Waiting for his bus at the end of Eccles Road, watching the lorries 
which splashed through the mud on Lavender Hill, he heard Elizabeth's 
voice again as voices are heard in the first moments of sleep, and 
through the dun fagade of the Public Library he saw, though he did not 
recognize, a turn in the dusty Pontedecimo road. "What is your name, 
little boy? Have you lost your mummy? Why are you crying?" The 
woman stooping so that her serene face was level with his and her 
dismal draperies no longer frightened him: there, with the road hot 
under his bare feet, with the drivers cracking their whips on the steep 
slope, he had seen her first of all. 

He could not have found his way, now, from the house in the 

261 



Vicolo Sant' Agata to the slope of green, ruled with olive trees, where 
she had played with him and the other children. She had come to fetch 
him, perhaps, or Mama had taken him there. It had happened so often, 
he thought, it was part of everyday life, the warm grass and the trees, 
the sound of the cracked bell. Monaca Pieta, that was her name, and 
she lived in a large house on the other side of the hot, brown wall. 

He had supposed, when he was younger, that he would be taken 
back to those places before long, and go without shoes again. He had 
once talked to little Rosie about 'Where we live'; 'You don't remember 
where we live!' But since his first year at school he had realized that 
the past is all shut up and you do not go back. He could remember a 
little of how it had ended: Mama complaining and scolding in the dim, 
swarming belly of the ship, the way the ship's sides curved over the 
narrow bed he shared with Rosie, the waves thumping and trying to 
get in. The nearest passengers still kept their place in his memory, a 
shrunken Englishwoman who was always coughing, the oniony man 
who shouted at her to be quiet and then prayed aloud with his arm 
round her shoulders, holding his cigarette in the other hand; and he 
knew exactly what the smell had been, for in Flanders Street on cer- 
tain days he had caught a whiff of it again, the smell of sickness and 
dirty clothes and tar. Yes, that was the boundary where the old life 
ended: with Rosie whimpering beside him, baggage and people sliding 
about as the floor tilted over; and then the man in a steward's uniform 
had grown to something more than a shape, as he picked his way with 
a flash lamp between the sleeping bundles and came to stare at them 
with dumb anxiety, the peculiar, long-necked man he had been told 
to call Tapa'. That had seemed to go on for a long time, the swinging 
motion, the queer shadows formed by the garish bulkhead lights and the 
moving bundles, Tapa' returning again and again; a lifetime in it- 
self; and he could not remember how it had changed to the chilly, 
grey-brown life which had followed. He had simply found himself, as 
if he had been there always, on the kerb in a straight-sided street which 
was sealed by a factory wall. 

No Pieta there. No Francesco Gioielliere in blue velvet trousers 
or scarlet birds in a cage, never a sky alight with sun. He had stood 
shivering by the broken door which led to some passage-way, holding 
Rosie close to his side, watching the pale children who sprawled in the 
garbage and yelled at each other with words he could not understand. 
From a window far above a woman had bawled down at him but he 
had pretended to be deaf, determined not to move till they brought 

262 



Mama back. "Ospedale!" the woman had said, laughing horridly and 
sounding the word in her own strange way, when she came to grab them 
both by the arms. When Rosie cried he had seized the woman's leg and 
bitten it, and afterwards, lying almost naked in the dark cupboard and 
twisting from the cut of the strap, he had screamed Pieta's name until 
his voice gave out. 

He had pictured Pieta exactly, he thought, in those hungry and 
despairing days (though his picture had corresponded little enough, 
perhaps, with the peasant features, scarred from smallpox, which 
Scorzini's portrait shows in the Palazzo Cadorna). Now her face was 
no longer a shape that his mind could re-fashion, it was only an area 
of paleness within the shadowing headdress, a distillation of light and 
of tenderness: a face that was sad but always smiling, so that it lit 
immediately a child's answering smile. Her voice, even now, he seemed 
to recall distinctly, a voice far softer than Mama's, crying "Catch me, 
lovelings, catch me!" as she ran up the green slope, laughing and 
stumbling in her morass of skirts. Yes, and once, when she fell over, 
he had sprung upon her shouting "Prigionere!" and she had seized and 
covered him with kisses murmuring, "No, Gianito, you are my 
prisoner, mine!" 

Always that hillside and the olive trees. No. Once, he remembered 
(walking slowly towards Bewley Street, hating to shut himself away 
from the sunlit evening), once he had seen her on the balcony of their 
own house. That day, among these clouded recollections, was like a 
group re-outlined in a faded drawing, the day when the polizia had 
come for Carlo Ferrara who lived in the room above. He had watched 
the struggle through the half-open door, the polizia blaspheming and 
Carlo's scarlet vest being torn to shreds as he was dragged downstairs; 
he had seen Matilda Ferrara in her night-dress clutching the sbirro's 
belt, heard the curious, animal whimper she gave when the other one 
struck her on the mouth. (He had stood perfectly still, smiling, think- 
ing that this was a performance like one he had seen in the Piazza 
Cavour last All Souls' Day, and knew no reason why he was sick on the 
floor a few minutes afterwards.) But how should Pieta have been there? 
Perhaps it had not happened all at once, as memory seemed to tell 
him; but he thought the alley had still been full of people, shouting 
and gesticulating, with Matilda lying on the stone steps between their 
feet, when he had looked up and seen Pieta with one of the Ferrara 
children in her arms and the rest clustering about her knees. 

A long time, years and years, he imagined, since he had consciously 

263 



thought of that: and yet the names came back, with a sharp, small 
portrait of Matilda's young face and her spread-eagled hair, the blood 
trickling from her mouth onto the dirty steps. ("And now," Mr Duck- 
ett was saying in his gentle, coaxing voice, "I want to see if we can 
clear up these Subordinate Clauses once and for all — play hard and 
really get them licked.") Perhaps he had fleetingly recalled the scene 
during those hungry nights in the park after his sacking from Hibbage 
Lane. For at that time, certainly he had needed Pieta; and Pieta, faint, 
elusive presence, a woman stooping over him, a girl romping between 
the olive trees, Pieta was first of all the figure which stood so calmly, 
so protectingly, upon the Sant' Agata balcony above a cauldron of noise 
and rage. Of all which belonged to that buried time, that dream which 
could only recur in dreams, she alone, less visible than the Ferraras, 
dim in colour beside old Francesco, had kept her strange reality, so 
that loneliness in him was a longing for Pieta, and the small flame of 
hopefulness which had burnt in the Digg's Yard days, and through the 
futile weeks in the Spenwick, was the expectation of Pieta, the sense 
that she could not finally desert him. The dream, the echo of a dream, 
was framed in no language; if words had ever fastened to it they were 
in a tongue which his ear scarcely recalled and his mind had forgotten. 
The vignetted shapes and tones remained, breathing their odour as old 
and valuable things do, sometimes faintly, powerfully in certain still 
airs; and like the spray of thin white scars across his shoulders the 
impress would not be erased by growth or by the current of time. 

So much in his life had changed, so many new demands had been 
made upon him, that this subterrene nostalgia increased its hold. Often 
overtired, he suffered the new experience of sleeplessness. He would 
wake as early as two or three o'clock, vexing himself about some small 
affair of the previous day, the foreman's little sarcasms, some spiteful- 
ness of Rosie's; and labouring in the twilight between sleep and con- 
sciousness he would struggle to explain himself as Mr Duckett might 
approve. Susie's presence at his side disturbed him then; her breathing 
seemed to be uneven, often she was murmuring to herself and oc- 
casionally she would speak as loudly and clearly as if she were con- 
scious; "Georgie, don't go away! I didn't mean to hurt you! . . . 
Quiet, please, quiet! I simply want to show you that I can manage all 
right. The point is that you didn't tell me. That just killed it, killed 
it. I know I'm right." Again and again he thought she must be ill, and 
he asked, "What's wrong, Sue, what's the matter?" nervously touch- 

264 



ing her arm. But she would answer coldly: "You mustn't bother me 
now. There were six extra coffees, that's what makes the two shillings 
difference," and would turn over to face the other way. Then he was in 
misery, certain that she was suffering from some unkindness of his 
own; fearing to waken her, longing for daylight and yet dreading the 
moment when, as he tried to explain his anxiety and his remorse, the 
words he required would scatter and crumble. In those enfeebled hours, 
with senses working too slackly to embank the flood of thoughts, it was 
easy to imagine that Pieta, somewhere at hand, would stretch her arms 
to him. She had been there, mysteriously, when he was alone and lost 
at the turn of the Pontedecimo road. Some magic had brought her to 
Fr'esca and 'Vanni when their mother was like rubbish thrown out in 
the vicolo. In this long, half -lit corridor she could not be far away. 

He wanted to see Mr Grist again, and he thought of going to 
Mickett Lane; he would have liked to refresh his memory of the warm 
colours in that room, and if the lady who called herself Elizabeth were 
there he would enjoy hearing her voice. (Like Susie's voice, and yet so 
different; deeper, older, the edges of the words more gently curved.) 
But the cost in shyness would be heavy, and he was busy in those days. 

They were working overtime at St John's Hill. On Sundays he was 
helping Susie and on most weekday evenings he was either at Bewley 
Street or in the Grover workshops. The joinery class was a part of his 
routine that he could easily have sacrificed; his thick squat body was 
fitted with a joiner's hands, and he had mastered most of what Ben- 
fellow the instructor had to impart; but somehow he enjoyed those 
evenings more than the rest. He had his uses here, giving a hand to the 
novices and duds: he could tell them nothing in words — somehow Mr 
Duckett's lessons never enabled you to explain the method of sharpen- 
ing a chisel — but he could show them. Hearing somewhere behind him 
the exasperated grunt of a boy bungling an interior curve he would 
wander over rather sheepishly, take the spokeshave himself and silently 
demonstrate; then, giving back the tool, he would delicately hold the 
boy's wrists and make them the channel through which his own sense 
of the curve was transmitted to the blade. They sniggered over this 
interference, but took no offence; you could not be offended by such 
stolid amiability; and in time they were all demanding his services. 
"Lumpy, here 'alf a jiff! Somethink all gone to bowery with this fumin' 
wood, maybe those mutton chops o' yourn'd shift the beggar . . . 

265 



Cor, ain't nature a masterpiece! What you can learn them gorillas!" 
Benfellow, elderly, one-legged, wearied to the verge of lunacy by 
pudding-fisted students, was ready to tolerate the practice with only 
a rare sarcasm to protect his patent. (''What I say is as this is the way 
a workin' joiner do it, though of course I wouldn't argue with an ad- 
vance man like Mr Ardery!") Benfellow knew, obscurely, that the 
providence which had given him a strong and subtle pair of hands had 
denied him the art of teaching ; and he saw that this clod from the back 
streets could somehow do with other men's bodies what he himself 
did so effortlessly with tools. "That chap," he told his wife, "he got 
some sort of a hold on 'em. Make 'em act like as if they was tradesmen 
instead of lumps of dough. Bleeding miracle, if you ask me." So Gian 
stayed on the course, an old-stager, relishing the smells of resin and 
glue, unconsciously enjoying a sense of possession which Weald Street 
would never give him. When Armorel proposed that he should drop 
the joinery and continue only with the plumbing he answered that Mr 
Benfellow still had plenty to learn him. Those evenings, she suggested, 
could be spent more usefully at an interesting course of lectures on 
'The Citizen's Responsibility' organized by the L.C.C. But on this 
matter he was quietly determined. He wanted to make himself a joiner, 
he said. It might come in handy with his job. He would see about being 
a citizen later on. 

Then, when he wanted to unlock one evening every week, it was 
the English course that he dropped. 

Trevon had sent him a letter: he was opening a new show over at 
Three Tuns Road, something similar to Hollysian House but for younger 
boys; he had rented half a house and some waste ground, and he was 
getting senior members of H.H.B.C. to do most of the running, taking 
it in turns. 

All I want you to do is to go regularly one evening each week 
and put the fear of Satan into these brats, who require it. Knock 
all their heads together and kick their backsides until they begin 
to grasp what civilization means . . . 

It excited Gian, for he had received only two or three letters in his life 
(apart from those alarming notes of Susie's vnth endless 'suggestions' 
about the wedding and assurances that she would do her best to be a 
good wife to him, to which he had answered, 'Dear madam, this is wrote 
to thank you for what you have figured out, which is all O.K. and 

266 



thanks . . .') Digg's Yard, where Simon had planted his family for 
their first wretched years in London, was in the Three Tuns district, 
and a certain curiosity inclined him to revisit the scene. Without saying 
anything to Susie he laboriously wrote a reply. 

Mr Grist. Dear sir, I beg to acknowledge your esteemed letter 
of the 29th ult. I take this opportunity to advise that I will go to 
your new 'Club' on Monday 5th at 7 o'clock P.M. This is the best 
I can do Sir since you have done fine on me, and I have never met 
my Wife except on account of 'H.H.B.C I will not hurt any of 
the young boys as you know Sir, that is just your joke. I shall not 
say that I would go each week. I will do my best sir. With kind 
Regards, in which Mrs Ardree joins, Yrs respectful, G. Ardree. 

With that, in the event, another evening every week was earmarked. 
Earmarked and apparently wasted. For Trevon's creation at Apostles' 
Court, born from a capricious impulse, swaddled in every conceivable 
discomfort and reared on a bountiful diet of misorganization, looked like 
a failure cut closely to the pattern of all enthusiastic failures. In the 
back first-floor room with a broken window giving on to the Pan, Gian 
found a trestle table and two benches, a coloured print of Landseer's 
Dignity and Impudence and three paper Union Jacks. Here a lean and 
shamefaced youth known to him as Snitch was in charge ; he was stand- 
ing by the wreck of a piano playing There's a Long, Long Trail a-Wind- 
ing with one finger, grinning feebly and at intervals saying dejectedly, 
"Look 'ere now, it's no fumin' good me playin' to you blokes if you 
don't sing." His audience was five small, ragged boys. One, who had 
been sick, was crying bitterly, while an elder brother was viciously and 
tirelessly beating the table with a curtain-rod. The two smallest, pinched, 
verminously dirty and with savage, adult mouths, were squatting close 
to the door, evidently longing to bolt, and the last, a ten-year-old 
grotesquely tall for his age, stood all by himself and stared towards the 
window with less than an animal's understanding. None of them looked 
likely to burst into song. When he caught sight of Gian, Snitch stopped 
playing. 

'T got to amuse these little baskets," he said dourly, "that's what 
Bulky Grist tell me. I got to bring sweetness and joy into their fumin^ 
lives, an' give 'em a noggin of esperrit de corpse." 

"I get y'," Gian said. 

If he did, he was no help. He sat on the table, merely increasing 

267 



Snitch's discomfort, until one of the door-watchers said desperately, 
"Gone eight o'clock, mister. I 'eard it strike, Crike's truth I did. Gent 
said we could fume off at eight!" upon which all five made a rush for 
the door and Snitch without a word went after them. 

There is no obvious reason why Gian should have gone near the 
place again. That he did go may be attributed mainly to his odd sense 
of gratitude to Trevon, which demanded some practical expression ; and 
a Httle, perhaps, to the influence of Armorel. Not that she encouraged it. 
When he told her in a foolishly casual fashion that he had given up 
the English course "to muck in on Mr Grist's new club," she could 
barely hide her annoyance, and let out the comment that anything 
started by a man like Trevon Grist was doomed to be a waste of every- 
one's time. Yet it was she, surely, who had taught him that time out of 
work was something to be used and boredom something to be over- 
come. He had learnt to submit with regularity and without reward to 
the misery of Mr Good's lectures; now, having embarked on a new 
form of discomfort, he easily accepted it as routine. 

Nor was it wholly disagreeable. The drab dilapidation of Apostles' 
Court could not positively oppress a denizen of Contessa Street; and 
a man who had once been pursued up Blackfriars Road by a dozen 
boys of his own age singing 'On goes the Grindie, the Macaroni Ape' 
was not too much embarrassed by children ten years younger than 
himself. The harmlessness of these infants, behind their shrewd and 
often hostile faces, was calculated to put him quickly at his ease ; while 
in Alb, the imbecile, he found a curious kind of fascination. He spent 
the whole of one evening knocking nails into a piece of wood in the 
hope that Alb would try to imitate him, and most of the next two ses- 
sions showing him over and over again (without result) the way to put 
new laces in his boots. It was reward enough to see just once, in the 
wandering, goat-like eyes, something that might be taken for a smile. 

This was a country different from the region of Contessa Street, 
where you could trace some threads of purpose in the motley of shops 
and houses marshalled against roads which took you somewhere in 
the end. When you crossed over Three Tuns Road you were in a 
prospectors' encampment where even the tallest building with its broken 
windows looked makeshift and incomplete; a village of women and 
their broods, a caravanserai for sailors, so that children kicking treacle 
tins along the gutters had the bright fair hair of Oslo or the smoked eyes 
of Nagapatam, sometimes dark heads with thick and wiry hair. A year 

268 



before, Gian might hardly have noticed that he had crossed a boundary; 
for the grey-yellow brick was the same, and there was nothing strange 
to him in foreign voices; but the North View had waked new sensi- 
bilities, and at Weald Street under Susie's close direction he was creat- 
ing something which differed from his parents' home as musquash 
differs from coney. He was becoming alive to new gradations. Visiting 
Alb's home he saw that by some standards his own was respectable 
and clean; and if his mother was slatternly in her ways she was a para- 
gon of neatness compared with the mother of Alb. (He could put Alb 
in the river and she wouldn't complain, the mother said, standing at 
the entrance to her room with a soldier's greatcoat over her nightgown: 
Alb was one of her slips, she told him, adding all the unvarnished de- 
tails, and after that she shook with laughter until a slightly drunken man 
arrived to take her inside and slam the door.) Compared with Digg's 
Yard, which he found only a furlong away on the other side of the 
Pan, the decency of Contessa Street was almost smug. Standing at 
Digg's Yard Turn he could see smoke-stacks that he recognized, and 
a faintly remembered rubbish-tip on the other side of the barge wharf. 
For the rest it was all strange land, except that a smell from the houses 
stirred some memory, and the odd notion passed through his mind that 
the children squealing and tumbling in the roadway were children he 
had known. 

Not a place to be loved or to be proud of. But his having lived 
here hastened the sense of possession which grew in his recurrent visits 
to Apostles' Court. This was a region of no privacies and no restrictions: 
street doors were rarely closed, amorphous families disengaged from 
each other only, and not invariably, for sleep, children took food in 
their pockets to eat on the Pan while their mothers fed on the steps or 
at the Carpenter or lying in bed. They recognized him now as he came 
from the bus-stop, and he would smile when the women in a friendly 
way threw bawdy comments from the windows, when banana skins 
whizzed past him in the road or a grinning child deliberately messed a 
step he was about to walk on: here as elsewhere he was a joke perhaps, 
but remembering the solemn courtesies of the North View he felt that 
this was a masonry he could understand. To forget, on this one evening 
in the week, the artificial speech he was trying to learn was like chang- 
ing from uniform into old civilian clothes. He could swagger and shout 
here; when an infant who could not control his wind went into peals 
of laughter he laughed as loudly as the rest. He liked to feel himself 

269 



so strong, to let the whole of Tim Paipi's 'Shanghai Gang' pin him to 
the floor and shake them off with one ferocious heave; and when he 
heard them saying "Cops? Ardy Rhino'll deal with them!" he felt 
that he had found a kingdom. A boy who had mischievously thrown 
slime in his face brought him the chewed remains of an apple as peace 
offering, and he was oddly moved: he understood that gesture. In some 
sense he had come back home. 

But often he was miserably angry. For there was ugliness here, 
which no one bothered to hide, of a kind that played directly on his 
sensibilities. There were children with impetigo and with sores on their 
spindly arms, some had hare-lips or goitre, pot-bellies or crooked spines. 
Walking across the Pan he would see a tub-like creature struggling to 
keep up with the older ones on bandy legs and feet that turned over 
sideways, and later, when it was chilly and dark, he would find her 
fallen asleep in the mud. Then there was a house by Leakly's shed 
where a pair of mulattoes about five years old were pushed outside 
whenever a customer went in; they were skinny children with watery 
eyes who seemed to have no ideas for play, they merely stood and shiv- 
ered by a wall which gave them some protection from the rain. Those 
were sights which hung like a drag upon his thoughts, and there were 
strands in the skein of sound which chafed his nerves more painfully 
still. From certain, houses you could hear a child's continuous keen 
beneath the raucous voices of a man and woman arguing; and more 
than once he caught the sound of broken, frightened screams alternat- 
ing with the clap of blows. That noise, running like icy water through 
his veins, made him huddle and bite his thumbs, and when nausea 
turned to rage he beat on the bolted door till his hands were running 
with blood. Afterwards the weakness returned, while the anger stayed 
like an abscess gnawing his mind; at night the faces of children fol- 
lowed him into sleep, they called to him and he answered them bravely 
(so that Armorel was sometimes woken by his cry and his frantic 
movements) but when he tried to approach them he found that the 
Spenwick officers had got him chained to the ground. 

"You don't mind coming here?" Trevon asked him, darting in one 
evening, hasty, confused, pitifully tired and out of breath. "It seems 
to me worth going on with. Or do you find it a ghastly bore?" 

"It's all right," Gian said. 

Such hasty visits were all he saw of Trevon in those days, all he 
exp>ected to see; for it was plain to the least observant that the man 



270 



was spending far too lavishly what little health he had regained. And 
that was unfortunate for Gian, with no one else to listen to him in just 
the way that Trevon could. In the forest he had come to none of the 
tracks was marked, and the travellers he had started with had gone off 
some other way. He could have done with a guide who at least under- 
stood the language he spoke. 

Perhaps the schooling of a human creature is bound to include a 
stretch of solitude, where daylight fails and the country no longer cor- 
responds with the explorers' charts. He was simply unlucky in having 
wandered to a route for which he had received no maps at all. At Sand 
Street they had taught him about arithmetic and Henry VHI's six 
wives, he had heard that there was Good, such as giving to beggars, and 
Evil, like stealing food. For other boys this seemed enough to get on 
with; they learnt the rest from the streets they lived in, from sardonic 
foremen, hook-nosed dealers and accessible girls; but to Gian it now 
appeared, vaguely, that existence was more complicated than he had 
been told. He did not go over his feelings with a glass, since that was 
a trick which no one had taught him; when he was wretched he did not 
study his misery as the highly-schooled do. But he knew, as animals 
can rarely know, that other beings could suffer hurt; he faintly under- 
stood that those more delicate in body and complex in mind might 
experience distresses unknown to him; and it seemed to his unformu- 
lated thoughts that in taking possession of a creature so much more 
finely wrought than himself he had made a signal contribution to the 
sum of existing pain. That belief lay like the shadow of a cloud across 
his mind's chequered countryside, and in the face of a paralytic creeping 
along Borough Road, in Alb's drifting eyes, the whimper of a very thin 
child who stood on the pavement entirely by himself, he seemed to see 
a reflection, an echo of what he had done Dimly he awaited some kind 
of retribution, and he was frightened; not of fatigue or pain, for he 
knew no limit to his own endurance, and his body was so fortified by 
use that memory only whispered how it felt to flinch from a blow; he 
was afraid, rather, of his own feebleness in understanding, his clumsi- 
ness, his power to hurt more fragile things with so little effort of body 
or voice. Some power he did not comprehend had slyly made him the 
instrument of an unfinished cruelty. That power might still be un- 
satisfied. 

He had his work, his classes, the pressure and traffic of the back 
room at Contessa Street. These, from hour to hour, were sufficient 



271 



freight for a mind unused to navigating far from the shore. But in 
moments when he was tired and his thoughts fell slack a loneliness he 
had not imagined before possessed him like a sickness in the blood, and 
against that infection neither anger nor the stoicism of one unused to 
coddling sympathy was of any avail. Then he was desperate for another 
creature at least to recognize his distress. He would have taken it to 
Susie herself, but he could build no bridge between his awkwardness and 
her sensible, sweet calm. And Mr Grist with the troubles of a hundred 
boys pursuing him was tired and ill, and Pieta, though he thought he 
had heard her voice not long ago, stood somewhere out of sight. 

It became his habit to return from Apostles' Court by Mickett 
Lane, which meant going a little out of his way; always hoping he 
would run into Trevon there and be invited to his room again. Once 
he took the cut through Bidault's Place, out of curiosity to have an- 
other look at Empire's house. There was some risk of meeting Charlie 
Empire himself, but he felt equal to that situation: in his off-duty 
clothes, and walking with his head up the way Susie liked, he was as 
good as any deputy foreman; he would nod to Charlie in a casual 
fashion and walk away. 

It didn't happen — the planned situation never happens. But on one 
of those evenings he did see Daise. It was nearly dark; he was walking 
rather slowly past the house where Trevon lived when a girl with a 
heavy basket hurried through the patch of light thrown from Begbie's 
window onto the wet pavement. He, at any rate, could not fail to rec- 
ognize that figure, the great head on the small, delicate body. He called 
out, " 'Lo, Daise!" and it was she who merely nodded and went on. 

He ran after her, calling: "What's the hurry? The war's over now 
— ain't you heard!" 

"I got to get back," she said. 

He seized the handle of her basket, "I'll take it for y'!" but she 
would not let it go. She said: "Leave off, Jan, do — my dad might see 
you." 

"Your dad — what about it! He's not my boss any more. I can 
carry anyone's basket, can't I?" 

He walked on beside her through the Coronation passage and into 
the place. There was a sheltered corner near Zadolski's shop, much used 
by lovers and sometimes by plain-clothes men. He led her there as he 
had done more than once before. 



272 



"Coin' on all right?" he asked. 

"Yes, I'm all right." She was nervous, she kept looking towards 
the passage, where an overhead lamp would show up anyone who came. 
"You all right?" 

"Huh-huh!" 

"Like being married?" 

"It's all right." 

"Got a job?" 

"Huh-huh. Bricklayin'." 

"Does she — does the lady think that's all right?" 

"Huh-huh. Yes 'n' no. She want to get me on a drawin' job. Own 
the whole outfit — see the mugs. 'What can I do for you today, mister? 
Church you're wantin', workhouse? Run you up a nice factory, any 
size you like.' That's me, the way Susie wants it." 

"Fancy!" 

"Yep, fancy's right! You got to do more book-leamin' than a col- 
lege professor for a job like that." He re-lit his cigarette and spat side- 
wise with the old swagger. "What you up to, these days?" 

"Oh, nothing." 

"Mum all right now?" 

"No, she's still bad. Lady come round and see her. Sundays it is 
mostly. Weekdays as well sometimes." 

"Uh-huh!" 

"Mrs Kinfole, she said she was. Knew you, she tell me." 

"Uh-huh. She all right?" 

"Yes, she's nice. Help me do out Mum's room sometimes." Her 
eyes were on the ground except when she glanced guiltily towards the 
passage, it looked as if her one idea was to get this interview done with. 
"Well, I got to be getting on," she said abruptly, and moved away. Then 
she came back, and for the first time looked up at his face. 

"Been nice, seeing you again, Jan," she said. 

"What's all the hurry?" he asked once more. 

"Dad don't like me dawdling about. He says it ain't respectable." 

"Oh, your dad said that!" 

"He wants everything respectable." 

Again she would have gone, but he caught hold of her arm: not 
roughly — that wasn't necessary. 

"Listen," he said, "did he ever find out I come round that night? 
That night Susie come after me." 



273 



"Yes. He come into the back room and smelt the cigarettes." 

"What did you tell him?" 

"I said you just wanted to see him, only you couldn't wait." 

"Uh-huh." 

She said fearfully: "You wasn't going to do anything to him that 
time? Not really?" 

"Scare him." He reflected for a moment, shifting his cigarette 
across his mouth. "Pity she choose that night to come after me." 

"It wasn't, Jan. It was a good thing she do come, you know that! " 

"Uh-huh?" And then, bending down to her, he asked: "He don't 
still bring them in?" 

She hesitated and then laughed in the way he hated; a nervy, 
twittering laugh. She whispered: "Not much." 

"What do you mean, 'not much'?" 

"I don't mind, anyway," she said. "It don't make no difference 
now, reely it don't." Then, sobering, becoming almost matter of fact, 
she said: "He got a new place going over Three Tuns way. Doris 
Pinchley tell me — Doris walk out 'cause she had a row with Dad. A 
proper set-up, the new place is. Swank, I mean, so Doris tell me." 

"Uh-huh — respectable!" he said. 

But she did not understand jokes of that kind, which he had never 
made in the old days. She said in a voice of wood: "He don't bring 
back nothing but the left-overs. Them as kick up about the tally. He 
got to do something to keep them quiet, dockers 'n' all. It's no good 
makin' trouble, you get used to it, reely you do." 

She was all sincerity. She didn't want any trouble. No, she never 
wanted any trouble — "You go and get Dad upset, an' then he upset 
Mum," that was what she had told him again and again. It was right, 
he supposed, you got used to it. And the men got used to it, some of 
them. Some didn't, and a few found it funny. He was back for an in- 
stant at the Hibbage Lane depot, with young Bickie Schneider going 
on and on in his earnest, nasal, outrage-loving voice. 'But her fice — 
well, you know, honest God, I never did see a fice like that, it ain't 
human, honest God it ain't,' while Stommeridge, with his camel's mouth, 
wallowed in laughter. 'Goew on — you don't want to look at her face! 

Cover it up, boy, that's all you got to do with the 's faceT And 

then the ham-fisted sketches, brazenly labelled on the cloakroom wall. 
He said, letting his thoughts tear out: 

"See here, Daise, I reckon I can't do nothink, see. Married man, 



274 



see how it is — you got to go on like a shiny once you get toggled the 
way I got — " 

"I don't want nothing," she said. 

" — It's not what you want!" he pursued, between anger and 
misery, "it's what he want done to him — " 

"No, Jan, you can't, reely — " 

"No, I can't. Only you can tell him, just the same. About that 
knife I show y' — I got it still — " 

" — But, Jan, you never would I Not on Dad!" 

"Dad!" he said, and a spurt of obscenity escaped like sputum 
through his fastened teeth. "You can tell him, just the same. He knows 
what I said, back at Hibbage Lane. Tell him I only got to hear once 
more — tell him that, see!" 

"You're talking foolish, Jan. There's Mum an' all. I got to get 
on now — " 

"Listen, you got to tell me, see — next time he bring one in. You 
got to, see! God 'n' oath!" 

"All right," she answered mildly, "God 'n' oath," and he let her 
go. "It's been nice seeing you. Jan." 

"Yep!" 

He knew perfectly well, starting to walk home, that she wouldn't 
tell him. She had never told him, he had always been obliged to find 
out by talking to blokes at the depot, watching from the end of Sea Coal 
Street. Well, come to that, it never had been no business of his, and 
it certainly wasn't now, with him toggled and Daise a grown woman, 
eighteen she must be by this time. But he was slow to think in general 
terms. He could not argue, as the well-informed do, that things which 
happen everywhere and every day are unimportant, because he had no 
means of casting his reflections as widely as that. As he went slowly 
past the fish bars and billiard saloons in Kirk's Squadron Street he 
could only think of the time when he had found himself alone with 
Daise in that top back room, the shock of realizing that the submissive, 
tearful eyes were human, her voice the voice of a child. That scene 
returned with so much force that he stopped and swung about as if he 
meant to go back; and as he saw in the lamplight the tobacconist's at 
the corner, the Lifebuoy plate, the porch of St Andrew's INIission 
Church, his memory shifted to that other terrifying evening when he 
had come this way, famished and slightly giddy, with the summer wind 
blowing the dust in his face, to have things out with Charlie once and 



275 



for all. Then he had been free, and what happened to him was no one's 
affair but his own. He was suddenly enraged that Susie had taken that 
freedom away. 

It was raining again, but -he did not notice that: in this country 
it was always raining. Someone said, "Oy, look where you're goin', 
cock!" colliding with his arm, and ^'What are y' bloody eyes for!" a 
driver yelled as he stepped off into the road. 

Everyone else was free. At the Old Richmond, as he passed, young 
men and women laughed together while the restful agony of an accor- 
dion spilt out from the saloon; across the tide of lugubrious basses 
chanting The end 0-0-OF a PER fick-die a cheap and cheerful voice 
broke from the pavement. 'Well, Joe, I said, your loss, not mine!' and 
the girl clinging to the speaker's arm laughed shrilly as they danced 
along in step towards their tram. The entrance to Vedander's buzzed 
with the stubborn tones of Jews and kerb-touts arguing about the day's 
receipts, a Pullman streaming over the viaduct showed for an instant 
the stolid profiles of homebound city men, outside the tube a bunch of 
shop-girls moved in a swarm of giggle and chatter through the portiere 
of lighted rain. No one but me goes out by himself, he thought as he 
turned into the darkness of Cord Street, not noticing the undersized 
clerk who passed him, the old woman picking her way to the pillar- 
box across the traffic slime. He sniffed, he could almost have found his 
way from here by smell as a dog would. And yet, he vaguely thought, 
tired now from the day and the labour of feeling. You are up above this 
crowd, and able to fight back, so long as you stay alone. 

The door of the shop was wide open and a light came through 
from the back room. It was Lizzie Bentlock, standing like the Rock 
of Ages at the inner doorway, who greeted him: 

"And here's the cause of all the trouble! About time you did come 
home!" 



26 



r 

JLh] 



HEY STARED at him, as on the night when he had brought Susie 
home. The usual people were here. A part of the table had been cleared 
for ironing, the rest was strewn with pages of the Star and the remains 

276 



of supper. The change was intangible, as in a house where news has 
come of some disgrace. 

"Your mum's with her," Simon said. 

There were people on the stairs, Rosie and one or two others. He 
pushed past them to the bedroom and opened the door. 

Maria was standing against the bed. Beside her bulk he could just 
see Armorel's hair. Swinging round, Maria said violently: ''Gian, you 
is not to comesin sair!" He went downstairs again. 

Simon leant against the sink, ostensibly drying a cup which had 
been in his hands for five minutes or more. He was trembling, and his 
breath, for the first time in months, smelt slightly of gin. He came 
shamefacedly to Gian's side. 

"It'll be all right, son. Your mum, she seen a lot of that, see what 
I mean, she'll do all right." 

"That's right," Olleroyd echoed from his chair, "Mrs Ardree'U do 
her all right." 

It was a point of pride with Lizzie Bentlock that she never came 
right into the room unless Maria asked her. But this was an occasion 
for breaking rules: Mrs Oestermann and Mary Toble, her juniors in 
Maria's friendship, were already inside. She sat comfortably in the 
basket chair, smoking a damp cigarette as if she were paid so much an 
hour to do it. 

"Maria had a bad time with her second, so she tell me." 

Miss Toble nodded. "It run in families," she said. 

"She don't look a strong young lady, young Mrs Ardree don't." 

"And they do say you want a strong girl for a strong fellow's 
baby." 

"She'll come out of it all right," Simon said again. 

Needing to sit down, Gian took the chair that happened to be 
empty next to Ed's. The paper lying in front of him said Mayjair 
Shooting, Ex-Public Schoolboy at Bow St, £y8o on Scent and Lingerie. 
Ed, sitting back, smoking with jeune premier ostentation and doing 
accounts on his knee, surveyed him with guarded amusement 

"How go, Gyan boy? First time's the worst for fathers, they do 
say. Still, I reckon you'll get through all right, all the fresh air and 
exercise you get, pickin' up a brick and handin' it to the other bloke. 
wipin' the kid gloves with a nice, easy motion." 

Gian took his chair round the table and sat by Olleroyd, who said 

277 



hoarsely: ''I know all about it, I know just how you're feeling. I lost 
my first wife that way." 

The window was tightly shut. All the cooking utensils which Maria 
had used for supper were still in the sink and a bundle of Evangeline's 
napkins lay unwashed on the sewing machine. Someone had upset a 
jug of gravy, it was all down the back of a chair and formed a lake 
on the floor in which Ed's cigarette-ends had opened out and were now 
congealing. Useless bitches, all these here! Gian reflected. Susie would 
always deal with such untidiness, and it seemed to him a deliberate 
affront that the rest had taken advantage of her absence in this way. 
But he was too tired to do anything about it. Something was out of 
order with his breathing, and he felt as he had done in the police court. 
He was more lonely than he had been in the street. 

The door from the stairs opened and the gnome-like Mrs Diddus, 
who appeared at meals sometimes and was believed to be one of Maria's 
Roundel lodgers, brought one more odour into the room. In her dress- 
ing gown and Wellington boots, with her hair peculiarly parcelled, she 
stood waiting for attention, heavy with evil news. 

"Lizzie," she said huskily, "Steve's not riding tomorrow. I heard 
them calling it in the street." She turned despondently to Gian. "Your 
ma says you can go up now if you want." 

Rosie stopped him as he went upstairs again. Her make-up was 
channelled with tears. She said almost fiercely, squeezing his arm 
against her small, full breast: "I never meant her no harm, Gi, truth I 
never did! I'd do it for her m'self, truth I would, it's nothing to a girl 
like me." He was grateful for that, and kissed her cheek as he had not 
done for a long time. After listening for a few moments at the bed- 
room door he opened it cautiously. He didn't really want to go into the 
room now. 

Maria was creating as much fuss as if there were four of her, 
laughing, crying and careering about the room. She seemed to have the 
place half-full of towels and kettles, she was tearing things and spill- 
ing things and calling on her saints first plaintively and then with fury, 
like a customer grossly insulted. "Two minute!" she said ferociously. 
"Two minute and then out! No more else!" Then, laughing again: 
"Ah, so pehle, s'poor lil-ragazzo!" Gian removed himself from her em- 
brace and went cautiously towards the bed. 

There seemed to be nothing wrong with Susie at all. She lay quite 
restfully, she smiled at him. "What sort of a day?" she asked in her 
ordinary, pleasant way. "Have you been to Mr Duckett?" 

278 



He kept a yard away, as if his breath might harm her. 

"Well, you see how it is, Susie, I been with the kids tonight. That 
business of Mr Grist's. Wensdays, you see ... I don't like seeing you 
bad, Sue." 

She said: "Oh, all this is perfectly natural . . . You're only going 
to this affair of Trevon's once a week, aren't you? You see, it's very 
nice and all that, only it won't help you in any way, and you can't 
afford to let any chances go past, not at present, anyhow." 

"No, I reckon it's like what you say." One of her arms was out- 
side the bed-clothes; he would have liked to caress it. "Nothin' I can 
do? Get you anythink?" 

» "No, thank you, Gian. I shall be perfectly all right. Only it takes 
some time, you know." 

"Where is — I put him now?" Maria was demanding of her pro- 
tectors. "I say I put him onse chair, segrade bowla — satisa liddle 
bicker!" 

"Oh, there's one thing I'd be glad if you'd do," Armorel said, "if 
you're not too tired. I'd like you — " She stopped as if her source of 
breath had been cut off, he saw her face tautened with pain before she 
turned her head away. In a second or two she went on speaking with 
her voice unaltered, and he could only tell from a movement of the 
bed-clothes what it cost her to keep it so. "I'd be so grateful if you'd — 
get on to Aunt Georgie. It's Streatham 7701. If you'd ask for Miss 
Georgina Cepinnier, and just tell her — tell her my baby's coming and 
I think it's going to be all right." 

"I got it," he answered automatically. 

If she had uttered one cry he could have bent down and held 
her; but the Truggetts had never behaved like that. With the spasm 
still upon her she said distinctly: "Perhaps you'd do that straight 
away." 

He lingered at the door; long enough to hear her catch her breath, 
to see her turn and open her eyes and compose that smile again, 
patient, friendly, encouraging. After that there was nothing for it but to 
go away. 

At least he had something definite to do; and without cap or coat 
he went straight off towards the call-box at the corner of Eton Road, 
nursing the Streatham number on his tongue. But before he got there 
he remembered that he had never used a telephone in his life and had 
no idea how it was managed. With that, the task assumed a fantastic 
importance: why this Miss Georgianna must be told he could not 



279 



imagine, but it was Susie's one request and he must not fail her. Mr 
Grist, he thought; Mr Grist would know. And he ran without stopping 
the whole way to Hollysian House. 

The Club, as he should have realized, was dosing down and Trevon 
had gone. Only Flock was still there. 

"God love a chicken-coop!" Flock said bitterly. "Pass on out of 
my hands a matter of two month, and what happen to your trainin'! 
Come on here puffin' an' blowin' like a trackshin engine! Spec Mr 
Grist to wait about all night to see y'! Call yerself a full-grown man, 
put the King and Parliament to the cost of givin' you a slap-up edger- 
cation, and then you say you don't know how to use the fumin' phone! 
Come on then, for crikesake!" 

They went together to the box at the end of Bait Lane. 

"What's that — Miss Spinyer got started on her time? An' whose 
perishin' fault is that, I'd like to know! You got a sawbones on her?" 

Gian had not thought of that. Within his experience you had Miss 
Beavle or old Mrs Lodge, and his mother — she had told him — could 
beat them both. He had supposed that only women of fabulous wealth 
had doctors. 

"Now all you got to do," Flock continued, standing in the dark 
box, "is to strike one perishin' match on top of the other while I organ- 
ize the civvy signals. Miss!" he suddenly bellowed, "I want Strettim 
double-seven-oh-one, an' I don't want Strettim double-six-one-oh, an' 
I don't want any fiddle an' faddle and larkin' about in any manner 
whatsoever. Number of this box? How should / know? Here, Ardree, 
give me that match, for crikesake. What, another copper you want! 
Look here, miss, you're not talkin' to the bloke what organize the bleed- 
in' Mint, nor yet the Bank of Bleedin' England . . ." He went off raging 
and found a drunk in Flanders Street, got a penny off him 'for the Earl 
of Haig's Memoriam' and came back cursing the man for having stepped 
on his toe. . . . "Jus' the same as I tell you before, Strettim double- 
seven-oh-one was what I said — oh, yes, you did, an' I don't want no 
more of your sauce, young miss — ^Well I am holdin' the perishin' line, 
aren't I, what d'you think I'm doin', cuttin' it off and takin' it home 
for the wife an' kids?" 

A doctor, of course! Gian thought, standing miserably in the rain. 
Fool that he was! A lady like Miss Susie ought to have a doctor to 
her, that was as plain as horse-drop. 

"What?" yelled Flock. "What's the good on sayin' huUo-hullo- 

280 



hullo-hullo! I can 'hullo' you jus' the same, go on all night, come to 
that. Miss Spinyer, I want. You is Miss Spinyer? Well, then it's your 
turn to hold the perishin' line . . . Ardree, come on, lad, quick about it, 
keep those heels together and breathe right up from the navel!" 

Shivering with alarm, Gian held the receiver tight against his ear 
and steered his lips into the mouthpiece. He said sepulchrally: "I been 
asked to speak to Miss Spinyer. Miss Georgianna, that would be. Much 
oblige . . ." 

The voice that miraculously came back had been strangely 
squashed in the wire, but it still sounded like the voice of a queen: "I'm 
afraid my sister has gone to bed. It's fairly late, you know. Who is that 
speaking?" 

"Well, m'm, it's like this here. I'm only speakin' for Miss Susie, 
well, I mean Miss Spinyer as you might say — Mrs Ardree, that is." 

^'Pull yourself together, for crikesakel" Flock groaned in his free 
ear. "No use diggin' round the dung-heap — give the ole perisher your 
number, name an' rank!" 

"I'm afraid I don't quite understand," the queenly voice said. 

"Well, it's like this here, m'm, my wife, you see, she's got a sort 
of a baby coming, she's down with it now. She said I was to tell Miss 
Georgianna Spinyer." 

The far voice changed a little, but the note which made his face 
hot and damp stayed uppermost: "You're speaking of my niece 
Armorel? You say her confinement has begun? She's not in any 
danger?" 

"Well, yes, m'm. It look to me like it's took her proper bad." 

The voice, utterly controlled again, said: "Do you mean that 
there's some risk of her dying?" 

"If the ole girl's tellin' you the story of her hfe," hissed Flock, 
"you just cut her off! Replace the implement on the hook provided, 
apply safety-catch and stand at ease." 

Gian said, with his breath pumping awkwardly: "I don't know, 
m'm. It do look as if it might be that way to me." 

There was a pause, and then Miss Cepinnier said bleakly: "I see. 
Thank you for sending the message. Good-evening." 

Gian let the receiver hang on its flex and went outside: "I'll get 
the penny back to y' temorrer," he said. 

Now that his programme of action was exhausted he was lost again 
and he stood quite still in the rain. Instinct told him to run all the way 

281 



back to Contessa Street, but a wall of dread rose up against it: the 
fear of seeing Susie in agony, of finding her dead; a terror of all the 
interested faces. He said miserably to Flock: "I don't know any doctors. 
I don't know as how you can get a doctor on a job of work this time of 
night. I reckon she want one of them shiny doctors out of Regent's 
Park. I don't know but what you got to pay 'em off before they come 
out." 

* Flock's gorilla hand came round his neck, which it shook gently 
forward and back. "I'll tell you what you are," Flock said, "you're 
nothin' but a chump, you're the mutton-headedest young b I ever come 
across in seven years workin' for a clubful of perishin' loonies. Listen 
to me now! Point One: Miss Spinyer ain't goin' to die, that sort never 
do think of dyin', they don't do anythink so common, not before they've 
got to ninety-nine an' been a bleedin' nuisance all over the fumin' Ian- 
skip. Point Two: Reference medical, I will indant for same, what will 
report for duty at your home. Point Three: What you want to do is to 
take this five-bob I'm now givin' yer, go to the Rosy Crown what keep 
the back door open half the night, get yourself so pickle-me-Thomas you 
can't hardly find your way home, find your way home, find yourself a 
bed-roll, doss down an' go slap off to land of fumin' nod and stay there 
till it's over." With a final shove he sent him off towards Flanders 
Street. "And don't you let me find you pantin' and squawkin' an' raisin' 
hell round my perishin' club any more tonight, get me!" 

Back at Contessa Street, sober as when he had left, it was hard for 
Gian to believe that he had been away for more than a few moments. 
The company had scarcely moved, it was almost like seeing a film for 
the second time. He had supposed that something important would 
have happened, that the baby might be born already, and it added to 
the strangeness that no one told him anything; this time, indeed, they 
were so much engrossed in their own talk that they hardly noticed him 
at all. He heard the heavy sounds of Maria moving above, and once, 
he thought, a sharp cry. Too much frightened to go upstairs again, too 
shy to ask anyone here for news, he sat on the floor close to the range, 
trying to recall the comfort of Flock's words, which had flickered and 
gone out. 

He would have valued Rosie, but she was busy; she came down 
now and then to hunt for something in the cupboard and ran dis- 
tractedly upstairs again; while Ed, ignoring him altogether, was telling 
interminable jokes about expectant fathers to Olleroyd, who gravely 



282 



blinked and nodded like one who listens to a lecture he has paid for. 
In the women's group Mrs Oestermann had taken the floor, and her low, 
heavily accented voice filled up the interstices as if cumbersome furni- 
ture were being dragged about in the next room. ". . .a boxing fellow, 
do you see. Come from Litauen, do you see. Well, you see, he get her 
with a chile who is six-teen poun' — sixteen poun, do you see — and do 
you know what her time is? — for-ty-seven hour and a half, for-ty- 
seven hour and a half, do you see . . ." Occasionally Mrs Diddus came 
in, wiping her face, and stood by the door for a few moments with the 
expression of one whose need for calamity is being slowly satisfied. An 
hour passed, an hour and a half, and still nothing seemed to have hap- 
pened. No one except Gian appeared to remember that anything was 
expected to happen. 

Then Simon's nerves let him down. He was not accustomed to so 
long a stretch in the evening without Maria to bully and comfort him, 
her absence made him fancy that the framework of his life was falling 
to bits. So, obscurely, he felt the need to get things straight, and started 
to steer himself about the room, picking up bits of paper and wonder- 
ing where to put them, looking for a cloth to wipe up the floor and 
then for somewhere to wring it out, since the women formed a barrier 
between the sink and the rest of the room. It was never an easy room 
to move about in; and now Olleroyd, hypnotized by the tide of Ed's 
wit, had his chair planted right against the pram in which Evangeline 
was sleeping, so that the passage on one side of the table was blocked. 
This meant that Simon had to go a long way round to get to the cup- 
board where everything useful was kept, and the sense of frustration 
rubbed through the last strands of his control. "You all go on talkin' 
and talkin'," he suddenly burst out, "with one of God's own creatures 
twisting and dying in mortal agony right over your heads!" and there- 
upon began to cry. 

But they did not take much notice, because Simon was subject 
to these fits of depression and was never a noticeable person. "Now 
don't you be takin' on so, Mr Ardree!" the women said, with the off- 
hand professional kindness they used for children. Fortunately two of 
his workmates had arrived on one of their regular visits and having 
seen him in such a mood before they set about his re-establishment with 
promptness and goodwill. Kind Izzy Brooks brought him a cup of 
water and made soothing noises close to his face; it was the weather, 
Izzy said with conviction, which sneaked up inside a bloke's bowels and 

283 



got a hold of his conscious; while Lofty Chiffop, bent over him like an 
adjustable reading-lamp and gulping with benevolent laughter, pulled 
his hair, patted his cheeks and blew on his forehead, causing him to be 
slightly sick on the corner of the dresser. "You don't want to tease your- 
self, Simon boy," they said, putting him in a chair they had dragged 
away from Lizzie and fanning him with a dish-cloth. "Allth well that 
endth well!" Izzy told him. "That's right, Simon boy!" and Lofty gave 
him the story of the undertaker's wife and the queer taste in the Irish 
stew. "If you get a grandson it'll compensate y'!" they earnestly re- 
minded him, and he did at last stop crying aloud and sat with his head 
in his hands, very white and heaving and asking again and again to 
be left alone. 

"I knew another old fellow what was took that way," Lizzie said. 
"The time his cousin was taken, poor soul, having her baby." 

"Really!" they all said, squeezing past Gian to look at Simon 
more closely. "They do say it's the fellows what suffer the most!" 

"I reckon it's touch and go," Mrs Diddus announced from behind 
them, suddenly entering and immediately departing again. 

No one had so far noticed the shabby and furtive Eurasian who 
had come in through the shop. He stood casting his quick, yellow eyes 
this way and that as if he were looking for the gas meter. 

"Please, where is this trouble?" he suddenly asked. 

OUeroyd, who saw him first, said intelligently: "Ah, you'd be the 
doctor! Mr Ardree over there, he's been took queer, very queer indeed." 

"Queer? What is the matter with him, please?" said the doctor, 
forcing a passage to Simon's side. 

Gian would have interfered then, but his attention was drawn 
back towards the door by the sharp whistle on two notes which Flock 
always used as a kind of hunting-cry. 

"Well, Ardree lad, this is the quickest I could do. Dr Wainsel this 
is, all the proper tickets, slap-up practice t'other side of Wandsworth 
Road and itching to strip for the job." 

The man at Flock's side was, in appearance, less like a doctor than 
the Eurasian: he might have been a hire purchase agent, a race-track 
scientist or the manager of a suburban dance-hall. The heavily ringed 
hands suspended from his fraying cuffs were like a quarryman's, and 
as he stood with his heels planted apart, his dark chin rammed on his 
chest and his eyes full of sleep, he looked as if he only wanted some- 
thing to punch. 

284 



"Well, come onl" he said shortly. "Where's the patient? Someone 
show me, for God's sake!" 

The Eurasian looked up sharply and detached himself. 

"Excuse me, please! I am the doctor here — the name is Dr 
Hahmied." 

Dr Wainsel, dragged from his bed after a stretch of sixteen hours' 
work, was not inclined to waste his time with casual buffoonery. "Where 
is the patient?" he repeated. "Upstairs?" And knowing how this sort 
of house was put together he went straight for the stairs door. Dr Hah- 
mied, however, was there first. 

Dr Hahmied had dignity. "You will please excuse, Doctor," he 
said in his high, rather sing-song voice. "I am very well understood 
there is much prejudice with a licence practitioner of my own kind. You 
will allow me to show you my certificate of the London Hospital — 
please! I am of British nationality. My father was of Aylsham in Nor- 
folk and his marriage was in St Jude's Church, Church of England. I 
have the certificate — please! My grandmother also was of Greenwich, 
London." 

"All I know," said Dr Wainsel, looking at Dr Hahmied as if a smut 
had got into his own eye, "is that this gentleman has brought me here 
without the smallest regard for my convenience to attend a confine- 
ment — " 

"Correct!" said Flock. 

" — and since you, sir, do not appear to be doing anything about 
the case, not as far as any plain, ordinary man can see — " 

"Toss for it!" Ed suggested. 

"Perhaps I may clarify," Dr Hahmied said without losing his com- 
posure. ''I arrive here, I find a gentleman in a state of grave nervous 
exhaustion — please! I have reason to expect the encephalitis case. I 
would be most happy for a second opinion — please." 

"What, that fellow over there?" 

The tone of that question roused Simon from his tearful lethargy. 

"Ay," he said with emotion, standing up, "I know folk think it's 
comical when a chap suffers from his feelings. I know right well this 
isn't a grand house, Doctor. It's a poor man's house, I'm not denying 
it. And I'm a poor man, I'm not denying that either. Ship's steward, 
that's what I've been most of my life, and now I'm nothing but a trades- 
man in the theatre — " 

"Beth trademan that ever wath!" Izzy put in. 

285 



"And a better man you won't find this side the river," said Chiffop, 
"or t'other side neither, come to that." 

" — But a poor man has his rights, you know, Doctor. He has his 
rights and he has his feelings — " 

"That's right!" said Miss Toble viciously. 

"And what is more, he has his pride." 

"And his pride!" Mrs Bentlock said. 

"You might call me just a simple, seafarin' man. Doctor. I come 
of good stock, all the same. Irish stock, I come from. You trace back 
among the folk I come from — ■" 

"The Sinhalese also are an ancient people, of great honour," Dr 
Hahmied explained in a voice now tinged with excitement. "Five cen- 
tury before Church of England they have found a great nation in that 
most beautiful of lands, with extremely equable climate, please." 

Dr Wainsel's reply to this argument was broken short. The door 
behind him was opened with violence, striking him on the shoulder. 
Maria was there. 

"Why issa dottore not come? You tsink I makese baby live 'n' 
semozer not die, all in one pair of hand, hn? Diddus! Whassiser use of 
tsat Diddus!" 

Dr Hahmied stepped forward again. "I am ready please!" 

"Right, then — you don't want me!" Dr Wainsel said furiously. 

Flock, with a sidelong wink at Gian said, "Well, that there's the 
bloke who's down on the bill for father. Up to him to say." 

Gian had not moved an inch. As if trapped beneath the room's 
load of stale air and voices he sat with his stupefied eyes wandering 
slowly from the doctors' sullen faces to the abject figure of his father 
whimpering in the corner, to his mother's damp face and scattered hair. 
What he saw, against this room's crapulous disorder, was the seedy 
room upstairs: the faded pattern of the yellow wall, the skewed pillow, 
Susie's grey face with the taut lips just vibrating and the dreadful 
resolution of her eyes. 

"I'll lend you a copper to toss with," Ed said. 

But it was Lizzie who gave a decision. "Well, look at it what way 
you please, it don't seem to me right to have a nigger doctor on a 
young lady of her class. You don't know what it might do to the baby, 
for one thing." 

"Make up your mine!" shouted Maria. 

Dr Wainsel had made up his mind already. He was half-way to 
the shop door. But Dr Hahmied did not quietly accept his victory. 

286 



Quiet he was, for perhaps two whole seconds; quiet and trembling like 
a stalking cat, while his eyes, first pitched at Lizzie Bentlock and then 
seeming to look in every direction at once, changed colour disquietingly ; 
but while his body appeared to be locked in paralysis his mind was 
working. It was a mind which, under unusual strains, worked fast but 
without precision, like a river in spate which, challenged by cliff-locked 
narrows, will break the easier banks and flood across the countryside. 
He could see, though everything was shaking in his eyes, that Lizzie 
was a woman ; and he knew that in this country a woman must never be 
attacked. It seemed to him then, by the confluence of many darting 
thoughts, that the real author of the outrage was the British doctor who 
had chosen — he supposed deliberately — to come here a few moments 
after himself and who was now, with every appearance of withering 
contempt, making his escape. He took two paces, therefore, and seized 
Dr Wainsel by the belt of his overcoat; and he said at large, in the 
strained, windy voice of one who has run a long distance: 

"So everyone think that all British doctors are good baby-doctors! 
Sh! Good baby-doctors! And that is a lie and a falsehood and an 
untruth, because I have work in the baby-hospitals so I can see for 
myself the way it come the mother die, the baby die, always someone 
who die with the British doctors, because where there want to be some 
big healthy baby and mother also they say 'Where is that Dr Hahmied?' 
— oh, yes, please, the mothers cry for Dr Hahmied all the time, every 
day. You ask this British man here, you say to him, 'How many babies 
you have dead this month, last month, month before that?' — " 

Simon's eyes had moved from Gian's face to Maria's. 

"Now listen!" he said, addressing Wainsel unsteadily but with sim- 
plicity and a certain stature. "You're a doctor, and I reckon you belong 
to a great an' noble calling. In the name of my son here, what has 
the woman he loves dyin' on her baby up there, in the best bedroom, 
that is, an' in the name of my good wife Maria as done all she can, I 
ask an' I beg an' beseech you to save that human life as good as you 
can." 

The dignity within that appeal meant something to Dr Wainsel, 
who turned towards the stairs again. But it had cost Simon a little too 
much. For an instant Simon stood perfectly still, as a sawn tree seems to 
hover for a moment before its fall; but it was plain that there was no 
force holding him together. Ed, quicker than the rest, cried "Look outi " 

Dr Hahmied realized that his prize was escaping. With a boxer's 
agility he twisted and sprang to get between his rival and the stairs, 

287 



and would have done so cleanly had not Wainsel, turning back at Ed's 
cry and instinctively moving towards a collapsing man, caught Hahmied 
on the side of the neck with his elbow. The blow was probably quite 
accidental, but Hahmied could scarcely be expected to realize that. 
Quicker than a snake he spun round, dived on to Wainsel's thigh and 
bit. 

"Mindse plate I" Maria squealed, bursting unreasonably into fresh 
laughter. 

That was addressed to Simon, whose head, as he fell, came hard 
against the table. Flock started forward, barking, "Someone for crike- 
sake get hold of that Chink!" but Lizzie was on to that already. Within 
a foot of where Simon now lay groaning on the floor she had the Eura- 
sian prostrate with her giant knee wedged on his neck, while Mrs 
Oestermann sat on his legs and in a dull, workaday fashion was bas- 
tinadoing his loins with her very sharp, small fists. There were cries of 
"Goo on, Liz, dot him one!" with counter-cries of "Easy now, don't 
kill the por booker!" "T'other bloke hit him first!" " 'Old 'ard, Liz- 
play to the fumin' whistle!" and Izzy, squirming in, did his best to drag 
Bet Oestermann away, but in a moment Miss Toble had him by the 
hair and was banging his head against the table-leg. In sudden alarm 
Maria stopped laughing and thrust herself towards Wainsel, who was 
kneeling at Simon's side. "Blood!" she squealed, "he drop all his 
blood!" "Oy! Steady there!" commanded Flock. "Steady!" a man or 
two repeated, coming in from the shop. "Come now," panted Olleroyd, 
struggling to get to Maria round the table, "easy now, Mrs Ardree!" 
"Damn that Hottentot!" Dr Wainsel roared as Dr Hahmied, with 
Lizzie holding on to his ear, kicked out at him with his one free leg, 
gasping, "I kill you — all of you — just the same!" From the stairway 
Rosie was calling, "Mum! Do come up!" but Evangeline had woken 
and Rosies' voice was lost in the wails from the pram. Mrs Diddus 
brutally pushed her aside. "It don't matter to no one, I s'pose," Mrs 
Diddus bawled into the smoke and din, "only it do so happen the baby 
is come." 

In the puff of silence which saluted Antonia's birth a new voice 
said: "Will someone show me, please, to my niece's room." 

Gian recognized the voice, and recognition shocked him into reason. 
He got to his feet. 

It was curious that Edith's presence made so much difference. She 

288 



was, of course, a tall woman, but the contractions of rheumatism took 
something from her height, her shapeless hat and raincoat were such as 
an elderly, impoverished servant might wear and the Cepinnier shyness 
hung upon her like a veil. She did, however, command that room, simply 
standing and looking at the scene, the men on the floor, the overturned 
chairs and dirty crockery, with the staled, incurious gaze of a licensed 
valuer. And except for Evangeline's cries, now fallen to a whimper, the 
silence into which Mrs Diddus had plunged them continued like an 
afterwave of Edith's voice. Even Hahmied got up quietly and stared 
at the wall like a boy who is going to be caned. 

An echo from the North View came to help Gian then. 

"I reckon you're Miss Spinyer — how-j-do — I'll show y'." 

With those words, spoken with modesty and composure, he quietly 
pushed the women aside to make way for Edith and the old man who 
stood with her, motioned them up the stairs and fell in at their heels. 
Maria, prompted by Ed, came panting up behind, for once speechless 
and shaking with alarm. 

Edith painfully mounted one stair at a time. Gian heard her say, 
in the fiat voice of a broker, "Dr Jacquelin, if any blood should be 
wanted I am in Group II." She went on, as of right, into the bedroom, 
and the doctor and Maria followed. Gian did not know if he ought to 
go in with them. The door shut again, leaving him outside. 

He stood by himself on the top stair. The noise below was starting 
again, as in a class-room where the master is seen slowly retreating 
across the quadrangle. From the bedroom he heard nothing except feet 
moving and low, indistinguishable voices. 

He waited patiently, schooled to loneliness and patience. Freed 
from the pressure of the room downstairs his senses were lively now; 
his ears hunted after little sounds, he saw as if under a glass the shape 
like a monstrous bust where the distemper had been rubbed from the 
wall, the shawl of cobwebs between the light-flex and the lintel; but his 
mind was curiously stilled by fatigue and pain. He was bitterly 
ashamed. For the wrong he had done in stealing something not made 
for a man of his sort the requital seemed to have been screwed to the 
furthest point. To be supine with helplessness while she suffered ; to en- 
counter that old Miss Spinyer's eyes and suddenly to see through them 
the place where he had brought his wife for her miracle of agony and 
creation: these last humiliations had reduced him to the stupefied calm 
which physical pain sometimes gives in the end. He no longer won- 

2S9 



dered what was happening on the other side of the door. The cry he 
heard, at once small and piercingly strong, meant nothing to him since 
it was only Susie's cry he listened for. His thoughts hardly moved at all. 

Mrs Diddus had come a little way up the stairs. She said crossly, 
"Well, you can't say I didn't tell you what would happen. I said to 
Mrs Ardree, clear as clear. That's another apron to be washed out, 
and a lot of thanks / get!" He took no notice and she went away. 

His eyes did not shut, but he must have slept as he leant against 
the wall there, for when the door did open he started exactly as one 
roused from sleep. It was Edith who appeared. She closed the door 
behind her and stood still, looking down at him. Except for the eyes, 
there was no alteration in her tired, impassive face, no trembling of the 
lips, no trace of tears; but in the ruthless electric light he saw, at first 
with astonishment, that the eyes themselves were unutterably sad. 

There was no sadness in her voice when she spoke to him. She 
said in a tone that he associated with police courts: 

"I expect you're needing money. It's — it's going to be expensive, 
all this." 

Money? On most days many of his thoughts were about money, 
what margin the rent at Weald Street would leave them, how he could 
get things more in Susie's style; but — money, now? 

"I'll do all right," he said shortly, without meaning to sound 
offended. And then, as his thoughts caught him like a gust of wind, he 
said: "I can raise it off Mr Grist. The buryin' job an' that." 

She was lost. "Burying job?" 

"Well, I d'know — no one tell me. I s'pose Miss Susie's gone." 

"Gone?" And then so slowly, so wearily, she said: "You mean — 
died? Did you think she was dead?" She shut her eyes for a moment. 
"There's been a lot of difficulty. It would have been all right if Dr 
Jacquelin had been there earlier. Dr Jacquelin is very good. You know, 
one must have a good doctor. I think she's all right now — I mean, she 
will be all right, with Dr Jacquelin there." 

"All right?" he echoed stupidly. 

"The doctor seems to think so." 

She could scarcely believe that this ox-like man was weeping. She 
could not turn away, because his eyes were still fixed on hers, and she 
watched him, dumbfounded, while he struggled to speak against his 
sobs: "I reckon she might have been as bad with a proper fellow, I 
know I done her wrong, I never wanted that. I never want to see her 



290 



have nothink like that . . ." She could only answer, in that voice of 
hers which refused to wear anything but working dress: 

"It has all been very foolish, I suppose — I suppose all kinds of 
people were to blame." And as one who suddenly remembers a trifling 
loan that has to be repaid she added, without any change of tone: "I 
suppose you'd like to see this." 

Intent upon her face, he had not realized that she was carrying 
anything particular: some sort of a muff, he might have said, perhaps 
a bundle of soiled things such as Rosie had brought down earlier in the 
evening. Now, as awkwardly as she had held it, she planted the turban 
of blanket in his arms. 

He first glanced up at Edith's face again, and was puzzled by what 
he saw there; for instead of matching the dryness of her voice her mouth 
had slightly relaxed, and her eyes were actually less aloof than they had 
been till now. That gave him a new shyness and he looked down. 

In the clumsy hand-over the wrappings had slipped a little, and 
something had escaped. It was the model of a human foot, shorter than 
Gian's forefinger, too roundly fashioned to be thought of as a thing for 
standing and walking, but complete. Yes, each of the five curled toes, 
fantastically small, had even its nail. Automatically he slipped his hand 
round to this small object and held it for a moment, feeling the flesh 
warm and endowed with a perceptible movement of its own; then he 
tucked it carefully away. He had not thought of this at all: that the 
creature Susie had been forming would be so perfect or so real. For- 
getting that the grim Miss Spinyer watched him he moved a fold of 
blanket from the part that lay on the crook of his arm, and saw there 
the head; not so minutely scaled as the foot had made him expect, and 
yet tiny for all that it contained, the doll-like ears, lips, nostrils, even 
wisps of brow over the screwed-up eyes. Those nostrils moved a little, 
and a piece of thread which a towel had left there was agitated by the 
Hfe that came from them. This was a person: a new person that Susie 
had made. Instinctively he tried the experiment of speaking, he said, in 
the Italian voice that occasionally came back to him, "Antonia!" and 
it chanced that the baby's eyes, no longer shielded from the light, 
opened just then: dark eyes like Rosie's, very still, but seeing; he was 
certain that they saw. Probably it was the light over Gian's head to 
which the eyes were directed, but he thought that they looked straight 
at him, calmly; human eyes, the eyes of a new individual, belonging 
to Susie and in some remote way to him. He had sense enough, born 



from the sunlight which fell like fire into the Vicolo Sant' Agata, to turn 
the child so that her eyes were protected from the electricity. Acutely 
excited, he held her delicately but closely, enjoying the little weight 
she put on his arm, and bent his cheek right down to feel the warmth 
she gave and if possible the faint stir of her breath. For a few moments 
he was almost happy. 

"Antonia?" Edith said. "That's what you're calling her?" 

"Susie said that would do, supposin' it was a girl. She's a girl, I 
reckon." 

"Yes. Shall I take her?" 

Reluctantly, he gave Antonia back to her awkward arms. She could 
not really have wanted her, he thought, she looked at the bundle so 
distantly, almost with disdain. She said with a nervous glance towards 
the bedroom door: 

"I suppose I may as well go. I don't suppose there's anything I 
can do. You could tell Dr Jacquelin that I'm waiting for him in the 
car." 

Her irresolution made him say: "Get y' a cup o' tea?" 

"Tea? Oh— thank-you— no." 

But Rosie had thought of this earlier: she came up the stairs now 
with a cup and saucer, put them into Gian's hand without a word and 
went down again. They could just hear the babble of inquiry, 'Did 
you see it?' 'How's it goin'?' as the door at the foot of the stairs closed 
after her. That was a reminder to Edith that she had to go through 
the crowd in the kitchen again in order to escape. She glanced at Gian 
despairingly. With some difficulty and embarrassment they exchanged 
their burdens, he taking Antonia and she the tea. 

"This is very kind," she managed to say, trying to swallow the 
scalding tea, continually watching him as if she expected him to throw 
the baby away. "You must realize," she said abruptly, "I'm not a rich 
woman. My mother is more or less an invalid, that adds to the expense 
of our household. But of course — I should do what I could. I mean — 
there are things you'll need for the child. If you will write to me — I 
mean, I shall do what I can." 

"Yes, m'm," he said. "Only we'll be all right." 

"I mean," she persisted, trying to keep her eyes right away from 
him, "I could always come here if I were wanted for anything. I — I 
understand a little about simple nursing. I've done work of that kind — 
not professionally, I'm afraid. Of course I don't want to interfere with 



292 



any of my niece's plans. That would upset my mother, for one thing. 
Oh, yes, I was going to say — I expect my mother would like to see 
the baby sometime. Perhaps someone could bring her to Streatham — 
I don't know." 

"Susie'll do that," he said. 

"Yes — well — I don't know. Perhaps she would let that — that very 
pretty girl who brought the tea, perhaps Armorel would let her bring the 
baby. Of course we should like her to come herself. You can tell her, 
perhaps — if she would rather I were not there I could arrange things, 
she could come some day when I am out, I'm out all day sometimes." 
She put the cup and saucer on the floor. "I think I ought to go now." 

Without meeting his eyes again she set off down the stairs. But 
half-way to the bottom she stopped, hesitated for a few moments and 
then dragged herself up again. 

"Perhaps you will tell Armorel — well, perhaps you will say good- 
night to her from me." 

"Yes, m'm." 

"And you will look after them — after them both?" 

"Best I can." 

It appeared from the way she looked about her that she had for- 
gotten something, her gloves or umbrella. Suddenly she put out her arm, 
and he realized that she meant him to shake hands As he took her 
hand she stooped — the action could not have been more clumsy — and 
kissed the blanket where Antonia's head was, whispering something 
from which only the word 'bless' came to his ears. It took an absurd 
length of time, that gesture, as if someone were shouting 'Hold it!'; 
and when she straightened she was still grasping his hand. Glaring at 
the wall again, she mumbled, "I expect — I'm sure you're a kind man." 
Then she dropped his hand as one throws away a bus ticket and began 
the descent once more, very slowly, almost concealing her lameness, 
erect and self-contained. He could feel, up here, the path of silence 
which she cut through the kitchen on her way to the street. 

The sense of being on parade which Edith had brought to the house 
remained behind her like the dust which hangs in the desert after the 
passage of a caravan. Only when Dr Jacquelin had left, and the genteel 
purr of the car bearing them both away came faintly to the back room, 
did freedom return. 

They swarmed upstairs then; the women seized Antonia as if she 



293 



were the common spoil of battle, they passed her from hand to hand, 
they held her this way and that, untucked her hands and feet as if to 
price them, kissed her on the cheeks and on the mouth, while Olleroyd 
took Gian's hand in both of his and Ed, laughing raucously, belaboured 
his shoulders and posterior with festive blows. Maria emerged from the 
bedroom harassed and subdued by Jacquelin's directions, but the sight 
of ordinary, comprehensible folk was like the sun bursting upon her 
soluble spirit. She had worked — ah, name of St Anthony, had she not 
worked! Her experience and skill, her powers of organization, her reso- 
lute heart, these and these alone had won the triumph which her friends 
were clustering to applaud. Generously she caught hold of Mrs Diddus, 
kissed her cheeks and displayed her to the crowd as a singer displays 
his accompanist, crying "She aid! Sis poor Diddus aid me also!" She 
caught the cigarette which Ed threw her and stuck it in her mouth 
like a cigar, she seized Olleroyd's handkerchief to wipe the sweat from 
her face and arms, and with tears continually misting her crimped and 
weary eyes she laughed as in the day she had first brought Gian out 
into the street, glorifying with her salvos of mirth the marvels of crea- 
tion which Nature could work in partnership with Maria Prudenza the 
municipal scavenger's child. Bewildered and enraged by their presump- 
tion, Gian looked round for his father, but Simon's friends had carried 
him off to get a heartener from a place they knew of. All the life of the 
house had shifted to the stairs, and in the back room, dense with smoke, 
he found no one except Evangeline whimpering in her pram and Rosie 
bowed upon the table, fast asleep with her pretty head among the 
unwashed cups and ketchup bottles, the head-shawls which the women 
had left, the crumpled paper and cartons and butts of cigarettes. 

Holding Antonia like that, treating her like a kitten or a doll, 
sticking their dirty faces against hers — some of them people he hardly 
knew! Mum, of course, encouraged them, but with a heart so great 
and good as hers Mum would pet the wolves devouring her feet . . . 
The anger they had lit in him turned against the room: he must get 
away from here, he would go and walk in the streets. But while he 
dared not visit Susie until she summoned him he was equally fearful 
of moving fai away. There was nowhere, in fact, for him to go or to be, 
no one to tell him anything. Damn Rosie for going asleep — he hadn't 
the heart to wake her, she looked so childlike and so used-up — and 
damn Izzy and Lofty for taking Dad away. He wanted just a word 
with Mum — 'Susie doin' all right? Didn't say she wanted to see me?' 

294 



— but Maria, careering now upon her own obstetric memories, was em- 
bedded like the heart of a lettuce among all the gap-toothed bitches of 
Contessa Street. He was a man, that night, without a home. 

Well, Sue was his wife, wasn't she! And the room — he was pulling 
out three bob a week for it. Couldn't be nothing he mustn't see, noth- 
ing he couldn't stand up to if he keep a hold on himself. With his mouth 
tight, hands in pockets, he barged his way upstairs again, ignoring a 
squeal of "Fancy him a papa now!"; went boldly into the room and 
shut the door quietly behind him. 

Yes, it was all in a mess as he had expected, and full of alien, 
hospital smells. Someone had hitched a towel round the bulb and the 
light seemed to fall with special force, like stage lighting, upon the 
litter of rags and basins which covered the chest of drawers. The bed 
was in shadow. He advanced towards it almost like one playing Grand- 
mother's Steps. 

He could see that the bed at least was tidy: clean sheets — who 
had got those, and where? Susie was murmuring faintly but she seemed 
to be asleep. 

Like a child bemused by the lights of a shop window he stood still, 
biting his dead cigarette, intently watching. He knew — it was the talk 
of every day, like weather and wages — what childbirth meant: he had 
prepared himself half-consciously to see her blanched and crumpled 
after the long struggle. Not for this tranquillity. It gathered in one 
image of a substance more ethereal than flesh, this young, reposing face, 
pale in the shadow, framed by the white pillow-slip and the sheaved 
foliage of hair, the firefly glimpses he had caught in boyhood from 
marching songs, street-corner preachers, the covers of sentimental 
magazines: a vision, till now inchoate, of innocence and splendour, 
of infinitely tender things fused by valour and hardship to a loveliness 
outside men's power to comprehend. He knew these features as he knew 
the old, patched counterpane: the curve of the forehead, the little 
creases below the eyes: to the slender, faintly .stirring mouth he had 
often pressed his own. But this face, sublimed by the agonized yielding 
of new life, was something that he saw for the first time. Not a posses- 
sion: he could never possess a distillation of beauty such as this: it was 
a treasure to be guarded as soldiers guard a city whose gates they have 
never passed, an image to be worshipped as pilgrims kneel before Our 
Lady of the Covered Eyes. 



'■9S 



He had forgotten his anger now, the evening's long fatigue. His 
senses had all shut down, so that the dwindling hubbub on the stairs 
beat like the noise of a street's traffic only against the outer wall of 
his mind. 

Her eyes slipped open and she looked at him perplexedly, as if 
trying to identify a once-familiar scene. But in a moment or two she 
knew him. She said rather faintly: 

"Gian, what's all that noise?" 

He answered in a whisper, as if there were still the risk of waking 
her: "It's just friends of Mum's. Lizzie and that lot . . . Do anythink 
for y', Sue?" 

"No," she said vaguely. "No, I'm all right. Where is my baby, 
Gian?" 

"Well, Mum's got her." 

"Oh. Is she all right?" 

"Yes, I reckon she's all right." 

"Oh." 

He was not sure how far, in this exhaustion, she could under- 
stand anything he said. Should he speak as he wanted to now? It was 
all ready, like a crowd of people waiting for doors to open: he wanted 
to tell her that Antonia was perfection, he wanted to praise her bravery, 
to pour out his gratitude for the miracle she had performed, to say that 
he loved and worshipped her beauty, her heroism, her womanhood, her 
calm and gentleness with a passion he had hardly conceived before. 
Without moving, he said "Susie!" and with her tired eyes falling shut 
again she responded: 

"Yes?" 

"You had a bad time, I reckon?" 

"Oh, just the usual, I suppose it was." She was very sleepy. She 
asked, with her eyes still closed: "Did you see Edith?" 

"Miss Spinyer? Yes, I seen her." 

"You know, you made a mistake. It was Georgina I wanted you 
to send the message to." 

How could he explain? His nervousness, the telephone, all that. 
He said, dreadfully ashamed: 

"Yes, I reckon it went wrong." 

"Edith didn't bother you, did she?" 

"Her? No. She was all right." It came to his ears curiously, that 
phrase: 'bother' him? A lady like that bother him, Ardree? He said: 
"She'd like her mum to see the baby, she tell me." 

296 



"Oh, I see — she's been making plans." 

"Well, that was what she said." 

Armorel said, after a pause: "Yes, Edith thinks she can still run 
my life for me. That's what she always thought She'll never forgive 
me for trying to run it myself." 

He did not in the least understand, but he knew that people who 
were sick often wandered a little in their talk. He said: 

"I'll get the baby fixed, best I can. Get her her schoolin' an' that. 
I reckon I can get cleanin' jobs at nights, hotels an' places." 

"Oh, no!" she said quickly, perfectly collected now. "No, Gian, 
you've got to keep your evenings, I want you to use them for increas- 
ing your own knowledge, so that you can get higher positions later on. 
No, you mustn't worry over the baby I've got it all worked out." 

"Well, I thought we could figure it out together, see what I mean." 

She did not answer. 

"You and me," he explained. 

But you could not suppose that a woman in her state would follow 
the direction of his thoughts: he did not expect it. A strong impulse 
made him move close to the bed, he put his hand within an inch of 
hers; but he could not actually touch her, now, when he had witnessed 
her transfiguration, before she invited him; and since her eyes were 
shut she could not see that the invitation was awaited. She said very 
wearily, but with her voice quite steady (for she never lost her sweet 
good-sense) : 

"I think you ought to find somewhere to tuck down and get to 
sleep, Gian dear. In Olleroyd's room, perhaps. It must have been up- 
setting for you, all this." 

The door had opened, letting the simmer of the house flow in as 
through a breach in a sea wall: the hoarse, persistent voice of Eliza 
Bentlock, Olleroyd's sjnupathetic rumble. Yawning noisily, Mrs Diddus 
brought in Antonia and put her in the basket on the washstand, while 
Maria, thrusting past Gian as if he were a piece of furniture, started 
to fuss with the bed-clothes. From downstairs, with all the smells of 
sauce and grease, came the noises, now forlorn and now exultant, of 
men singing: Simon's friends had brought him home. 

Gian couldn't be here all night, Maria told him. The girl must get 
some sleep. He said, "Goo '-night. Sue," and she answered sleepily: 

"Oh, good-night Gian." 

Perhaps she had opened her eyes again, perhaps stretched a hand 
towards him; but Maria was between them, so he could not see. At any 



297 



rate, she must be terribly tired. He seemed to be in Mrs Diddus's way 
as well, she said angrily, "Oh, you!" when he peeped over her shoulder, 
trying to get another glimpse of Susie's child. He went downstairs and 
looked about for a cigarette; not thinking, as common sense alone 
might have bidden him, about where he should sleep. 



298 



PART THREE 



27 



A 



LL THE LETTERS which Raymond wrote to Elizabeth Kinfowell, 
from the time of their first meeting at Armorel's wedding, were in the 
same voice; and their matter was often very much the same. 

On Tuesday, [he said in one of them] I make my customary 
New Year pilgrimage to Weald Street. The usual dressing problem 
rises — and I have always prided myself on being a man without 
sartorial perplexities — ^how to clothe myself so as to flatter Armorel 
without infuriating her neighbours. To the finer points of Weald 
Street sensibility I am without a guide. If only you, my dear 
Elizabeth, were here to instruct me . . . 

In December 1928, when their friendship was seven years old, he 
was writing: 

Elizabeth, my dear, I am in really urgent need of your wisdom 
and experience. Do you not feel that chicken livers a la Madere, 
with perhaps a Mittel Mosel wine of some kind, would be an 
admirable thing for your general health on Tuesday or Thursday 
of next week at 12.30 at the same place as last time? The question 
of Michael's Christmas present is giving me grave anxiety. When 
I took him out at half-term he said 'a book,' but books are sold 
in so many different sizes, and are said to be bad for the morals 
as well as the eyesight. Then I require advice and encouragement 
for my New Year visit to Weald Street. How I wish that Armorel 
had not chosen that particular passage to live in! — To the olfactory 



301 



mise-en-scene I am now hardened; but not to the manifest hostility 
of those strangely shaped ladies (I make a guess as to their gender) 
who stand all day long in the doorways of No. 5 and No. 12, or 
to the ribaldries of their children, or the peculiar abigail and other 
supernumerary members of my cousin's establishment. I ask again, 
why Weald Street? The genius of martyrdom I understand (though 
I could never approve it) ; but surely when the martyr insists on 
being fastened to the stake with barbed wire he crosses from 
holiness into mere pedantry. Well, that is Armorel's affair, and I 
do not pretend to understand her better than I understand the rest 
of her sex. You, my dear, I do not understand at all. But you 
understand me, and you can be my Beatrice when all others fail. 
Since it is modish in these times to have what is called a tempera- 
ment I can say without disloyalty that Armorel appears to be 
acquiring that adjunct — a small one, nothing ostentatious, I assure 
you; and I really doubt if I can be of any use to her except under 
your minute directions. I think I have already told you that you 
are a woman not only of physical perfection but of singular gifts 
and unique perceptions. Elizabeth! I insist that you pay attention, 
and stop grinning — yes, I said grinning — in that aloof and cynical 
fashion. My dear, I implore you to take me seriously . . . 

'Unique perceptions'! Elizabeth echoed when she read that passage 
again in the tube; seeing reflected in the window what appeared to her 
the most commonplace of middle-aged faces, feeling the pinch of a 
corselette she had not troubled to put on carefully, thinking of people 
she had entirely mis-read, situations woefully mishandled. 'Singular 
gifts' ! She remembered the hours it had once taken her to write a letter 
telling Gordon Aquillard that Armorel was finally lost to him; she 
thought of Henry's lectures on household account-keeping ("But, my 
good woman, when you draw a cheque you're not adding to your income, 
surely even you can see that!"), his familiar "Ah, well, we'll see what 
Hilda thinks — Hilda's generally right about matters of style." Poor 
Raymond! she thought: too slovenly in mind to come to terms with 
people as they really are, he uses them as lay figures to be clothed with 
preposterous garments, faintly redolent of naphthalene, from the presses 
of his baroque, Edwardian mind. 

And yet there was significance, had she perceived it, in the very 
fact that Raymond pursued her friendship for year after year. He was, 
of course, an amateur of women, but not of women advancing into 
middle age. A few old ladies he liked, mostly relatives of his own ; among 



302 



the necessities of his Hfe was that for people (like Gertrude Cepinnier, 
with whom he had maintained unflagging correspondence until the week 
of her death) who could respond like dancers in a minuet to his arch- 
ness, his courtly preambles, his gravely constructed flippancies. For the 
rest, he liked his women friends to be young, and fresh from stock; 
not because he was pained to see them lose their bloom, but since, 
with a limited equipment for gallantry, he realized instinctively that 
when once his tricks had all been performed — the little dinner at 
Fothergill's hotel, the slightly risque story about Fanny Beaconsfield 
and the Princess of Wales — he must discover a new audience. Ob- 
scurely, he knew that he was a bore, and had just sense enough to avoid 
the humiliation of being shown so. And yet, having once added Eliza- 
beth to his collection (and not doubting that she saw through all his 
pretensions), he was ready to cultivate her society with almost painful 
strategy for the rest of his life. He conferred that distinction on no 
other young or middle-aged woman of his acquaintance. 

The wretched blunder about Kinfowell's car at Armorel's wedding 
had given him an excuse to call at Munster Place, ostensibly to make 
his apologies. He had been lucky, as he was so often; Elizabeth had 
been alone, and in twenty minutes, working on stereotyped lines, he 
had learnt approximately at what times and seasons her husband was 
likely to be out of town. In the spring, motoring in Shropshire, he had 
visited Easterhatch and exhibited himself to Henry as a harmless, rather 
old-fashioned person who shared Elizabeth's interest in ceramics ; for he 
liked his tactics to be without fear and without reproach; and there- 
after his access to Elizabeth's society had been limited only by the 
bounds of her tolerance. He was careful not to lose so precious an 
amenity by extravagant or clumsy demands. He never sent her an invi- 
tation when his conversational funds were low, seldom when he had 
nothing to offer besides his own companionship. In March, if she cared 
to see Pavlova, he had two stalls, and afterwards she might possibly 
be amused by an Italian place he had lately discovered, particularly 
good for supper? Then he would let three or four months elapse, 
punctuated only by an urbane letter or two, before he asked whether 
she had any interest in polo: for himself, he regarded the game funda- 
mentally as a misuse of fine horsemanship, but the skill of the American 
visitors was said to be fascinating to watch, and Archie Stanhoe had 
asked him to bring a lady to Ranelagh on the loth. Once he made no 
attempt to see her for as long as seven months. But in that space he 
twice travelled to Dorset, upon the flimsiest excuses, and took Michael 



303 



out for a half-term holiday; and those were occasions for particularly 
long letters. (''He was looking extremely well; I stayed overnight to 
watch him run in his heat of the 220, and experienced an avuncular 
pride in his performance — he is not a strong runner, but all his move- 
ments have an Athenian grace, as I should expect. Really I take the 
warmest pleasure in his society, and I am so grateful to him — and of 
course to you — for again giving me this indulgence. How wise that 
young man has been in his choice of a mother . . .") After that she 
could scarcely refuse his invitation for the Ladies' Night of the Odd 
Volumes; and in April next year he invited her and Henry to lunch 
with him at Finchley (only Henry proved to be away on business at 
Amsterdam) and drove her up to the Spaniards, and they walked to- 
gether on the Heath, where their faces were licked by the London wind 
and splashed with sunshine falling through fresh leaves. 

There was always Weald Street to talk about; for if any sincerity 
was to be found in this man of wayward sentiments it lay in some kind 
of devotion to Armorel. Her beauty and gentleness in girlhood had 
charmed him, as her steadiness of mind had pleased him later on; he 
had been fond of her father; and since Arthur's death and Irene's 
dereliction he had felt a certain responsibility towards their child. He 
realized, moreover, that he was much blamed by the relations for hav- 
ing helped her to make a ridiculous marriage; and having no small 
respect for the man she had chosen ("a thoroughly honest tradesman" 
. . . ''devoted to Armorel" . . . "chap who doesn't pretend to be any- 
thing but what he is — I can get on with people like that!") he was 
constantly determined, with a touch of the Truggett obstinacy, to prove 
them wrong. "You see," he would say, leaning on the arm of Eliza- 
beth's chair, "it's not merely that Armorel knew her own mind — every 
girl says she does that — the point is that she had a mind to know. Of 
course, I think she has made tactical mistakes. She has asked for too 
much, and she hasn't asked for enough — do you see what I mean?" 
while Elizabeth nodded gravely, sympathetically, never disputing any- 
thing the old windbag said . . . But surely he needed Elizabeth as 
something more than an audience for his meanderings about Armorel, 
this painstaking hedonist who clung so tenaciously through the years to 
what friendship she had for him. He never made love to her: he could 
not have dreamed that she would respond. She had not been young, as 
he thought of youth, when he first met her. There was hardly anything 



304 



similar in their characters, and he must have known that she gently 
laughed at him. 

Perhaps it was chiefly that, living without close relationships, he 
hungered for emblems of permanence; and Elizabeth changed so little, 
the years passing the grey increased a little in her hair, the small 
creases about her eyes and mouth were deepened, the fit of flesh to bone 
in her face slightly altered. But these modulations did not matter, be- 
cause she had never been a belle of the sort that soap-makers publicly 
delight in. Indeed, he had never seen her a woman in full health, her 
skin and the stitching of her mouth had always been those of a con- 
valescent. Her beauty, he thought, was of a kind that a sculptor will 
achieve just once, perhaps when he himself is sick, too tired to regard 
the conventions which have become a part of his equipment, so that 
his elemental genius goes to the stone unmodified and he can say when 
it is done: "There, there is my first intention!" Yes, she was a work so 
finished that age could make no difference; for she was already aged, 
he thought, in wisdom and in suffering. In her eyes, her walk, the move- 
ments of her hands, there was repose ; not lassitude, but the quietness of 
one who has discarded the needless gestures of impatience, surprise, 
alarm. Upon that stillness of regard chance and the seasons would work 
without organic effect, as waves, beating on a strong sea wall, subduing 
its colour, wearing the stone-face, will leave the foundation unimpaired. 
Her voice, soft like the wines of the Medoc, did not alter at all. 

And then, romantic that he was, he liked a woman to be mysterious. 
He knew so many of the facts: her father's early death somewhere 
abroad, the struggling, impoverished life at Dinstead Fen, her work as 
an elementary school-teacher: yet often she seemed to him as darkly 
framed as the allegorical figures in cloudy paintings, and he was fas- 
cinated by the huge extent of the country he did not know. She spoke 
so little of herself, except in direct answer to his questions; so Httle 
of how her days were filled, what friends she had and which she 
cared for. She did not belong, as others did, to any world that he knew. 
From the way she behaved in restaurants, the people she bowed to, the 
cast of her occasional sarcasms, one would have classified her as adher- 
ing to the straitest sect of rich men's wives. But when she said, casually, 
"Of course Matilda has a theory that all our bad weather comes from 
America," he found that she was referring not to INIatilda Llandovery 
but to a certain Mrs Empire living somewhere in the Southwark hinter- 
land; and she would say "No, I shan't be in the West End again this 



30s 



week," exactly as one of his own neighbours might say it. Of her hus- 
band she spoke in terms of positively Victorian deference: "Henry and 
I didn't really like living in Turkey" . . . "Henry thinks that small 
hats don't suit me" . . . "Yes, I did mean to go to Michael for his 
half-term myself, only I don't like to leave Henry at this time of year, 
when he nearly always has a cold": deference, almost affection, with 
never a hint that her marriage was not all she wished: while Raymond 
was certain — for it made no demands on anyone's perspicuity — that 
a mere sum of objectless capacities like Kinfowell could give her noth- 
ing that she needed. Why this fagade, with a man so discreet as himself? 
— for surely by now she could trust in his discretion. Did she never lose 
her detachment, was she really content to go through the social motions 
as brainless beauties did and to live entirely within herself; or else, in 
whom did she confide? But the mystery was deeper than that. 

He could understand neither her sorrow nor her happiness. He did 
not doubt that she endured much physical pain, but the suffering he 
saw when he caught her unawares was not from a physical source; not, 
he thought, from any one source at all. From the tiredness of her eyes, 
the slow, tugged framing of her lips when she smiled, you had said she 
was a creature ordained to suffering; but no one could have called her 
melancholy. She could be gay, she responded easily to what pleasure 
you had to share with her and lingered in that delight, slipping back 
only by degrees to the still shadow from which you had brought her. 
Even when she was pensive, when old sicknesses betrayed themselves in 
the movement of little veins beside her temples, the ebb and flow of 
stiffness in her lips, you would not have used the word 'unhappy'; be- 
cause unhappiness brings dullness to the eyes, and in hers there burnt, 
however far away, an untroubled light. 

No, Raymond did not understand her, and perhaps he was content 
not to understand ; for with all his small, childish conceits he had some 
notion of his limitations. There was music which meant nothing to him 
because his tympanic nerves lacked sensitivity to perceive its elements ; 
and so, he supposed, her mind and heart were illumined by lights too 
exquisite, too transcendental, to penetrate his own. It was enough that 
she was kind to him, to feel that perhaps the little treats he devised 
for her, the few small jokes they kept to unwrap and play with at their 
occasional meetings, were a fraction of her life which she would miss if 
they ceased to occur; enough to get her answers to his letters, begin- 
ning *'Mon vieux", to see two or three times a year the light breaking in 
her mysterious mouth and eyes when she caught sight of him across 

306 



the foyer of a theatre (a faintly different smile, he told himself, from 
that which she kept for other friends), to watch the infinite delicacy 
of her body as she sat down in the Russell chair he had bought specially 
for her, murmuring, "Oh, Raymond, it's nice to be so quiet, not to have 
to think I" 

How delicious her silences are! he thought, that afternoon in 
November 1933 when they had lunched at the House and he took her 
home, as she desired, on foot. In the park's quiescence, with the mist 
drawn as a net curtain across the Whitehall buildings, the thresh of 
taxis in Birdcage Walk already remote like the sounds outside a dream, 
another woman would have needed to chatter, ^How sad the trees look ! 
. . . How slowly a year dies!' while she was content to reflect the tones 
of the falling day in the quality of her silence. And then, of course, it 
was he who broke it. 

"You must be horribly cold, with those thin stockings. You know, 
I think you ought to go in for politics yourself. If we must have women 
in politics then we might as well have a few sensible ones." 

She loosed and re-hooked her smoke-fox tie so that it lay still more 
becomingly, he thought, on her narrow shoulders. 

"Oh, Raymond, I'm sorry I look so dowdy. And it was such a nice 
lunch, and so many friends of yours saw me!" 

"My dear, I didn't say you looked dowdy." 

"You said I was a sensible woman." 

"Well, I didn't mean it. Honestly I didn't." 

"That's very sweet of you, Raymond! I've felt so lonely all these 
weeks, with Henry in America and no one to tell me that I'm mentally 
deficient." 

He said dejectedly: "Elizabeth, surely you needn't talk to me in 
that debutante fashion. You know perfectly well that you've got ten 
times the brains I have." 

"Ten times?" She stopped on the foot-bridge to break up a piece 
of bread she had slipped into her bag and throw it to the waterfowl. 
(It charmed him to watch her doing that.) "Oh, dear," she said, "what 
a terrible load to carry!" 

"What load?" 

"Ten times your brains." 

"No," he said firmly, "no, you really cannot make this fish rise 
with that old piece of orange peel. One thing I do realize, which is that 
I am not a clever man — " 



307 



"—But I thought you told me—" 

" — My cousin Frederick made the whole position clear to me some 
time ago, when I first talked about a political career. He said, 'Ray- 
mond, my dear fellow, I love you very dearly, but intellectually I rate 
you as a minus quantity.' " 

"But how sad for me!" 

"Why?" 

"To know that you put down my intelligence quotient as minus 
ten." 

"I must ask you to excuse me," he said rather pettishly, "while 
I go back and drown myself in that pond." 

"But, Raymond, it's so unlike you to start breaking by-laws, 
especially in a Royal Park." 

"I hope you'll feel sorry when you see the headlines: 'Girl's cruelty 
brings death to well-known season-ticket holder. Complete misunder- 
standing, says wife of Financial Tycoon.' " 

" 'Thought he could swim.' " 

"As a matter of fact, I am quite a good swimmer." 

" 'Thought he would interest moor-hens' Tell me, do you really 
think that politics would be my metier?" 

"No, I don't. You're neither the one thing nor the other. You're 
not earnest and dull, you're not fundamentally cynical, and you're not 
a wool-gathering idealist." 

"Are those what they want?" 

"It's what they get." 

"Do you think that Armorel would make a politician?" 

They were exactly in the middle of the Mall. He stopped dead, 
looked at her sharply and then at the ground, standing like a golfer 
with his feet apart and menacing a tram ticket with the point of his 
umbrella. His capacities were not unlimited, he could not walk and 
pursue fresh notions at the same time. He said: 

"Armorel?" 

"Your cousin." 

Yes, but they had not been discussing Armorel, Armorel had 
scarcely been mentioned today, they had been talking (he vaguely 
thought) about moor-hens. A pity that even Elizabeth had this feminine 
trick of leaping from one topic to another. 

"But I mean to say — Armorel, she's got two children, Antonia 
must be ten or eleven by now, she hasn't got time for that sort of non- 
sense. Of course she did think of it once, or so she told me, before she 

308 



met that fellow — what was his name? Achilles Appleyard or some- 
thing, some damned silly name — " 

"Gordon Aquillard." 

"Well, it doesn't matter. Of course you go through that stage, 
even girls nowadays, she was reading economics and all that sort of 
eyewash." 

"Do you think we ought to get on to the footpath?" 

"Well, I've got as much right to this road as all these dyspeptic 
brewers in their damned motors, haven't I! " But he suffered her to take 
his arm and lead him on towards the Green Park. "Of course the point 
is that she was too good-looking. You can't expect a really pretty girl 
to settle down to anything like political life." 

"Yes, you were saying that before we got to the moor-hens." 

"Was I? Well, it's a pity, all the same. I feel that if she had some 
outside interest these days things might be better. I'm not saying there's 
anything wrong. All I mean is, she'd have less time to worry over her 
husband not becoming president of the Guild of Master Bricklayers or 
whatever it is she wants him to be." 

"You think she worries over that?" 

"Me? I don't think anything. I mean, not about Armorel. I don't 
understand married life and all that." 

"But you think she's changed a bit?" 

"Well, everyone changes, don't they?" 

He wished there were not so many people about, clerkly young 
men and their girls, a seedy governess with a whole cohort of children, 
even ragged people such as he had never seen in this part, as far as 
he remembered, in the old days. They distracted him. In this Atlantis, 
with the grey, Whistlerian light drawing rails and litter bins into 
harmony with the gentle distances, the portentous mass of the Palace 
imparting to the background a secure theatricality, he could have 
thought of Armorel in peaceful and heroic terms: against this sombre 
cloth, and with Elizabeth beside him, he could have contemplated her 
situation as one watches drama, objectively, with the oblique satisfac- 
tion of fastidiously ordered griefs. These loiterers with their effluvium 
of scent and poverty brought whiffs of the reality he had been steering 
away from all these years. The man coming towards them now had 
a keloid from ear to lip — interesting, in a way — and Raymond had 
seen the exact copy of that disfigurement on his last visit to Weald 
Street. Really, when so little of dignity was left, it would surely not 



309 



be unreasonable to make such people cover up their scars, at least 
at this end of the town. And now Elizabeth, with that weakness which 
even the best of women had for pursuing topics far better dropped, was 
saying : 

"... you think she's happy?" 

"Happy? Armorel?" 

He went on for another twenty paces, a part of his timid mind 
wondering whether anything could be done to tidy up that dreadful 
fellow — should he run back now and tell him he ought to try Butter- 
thorpe the dermatologist in Aybrook Street? He said: 

"I don't see how you can talk of people being happy or unhappy 
in that general way — ordinary people, I mean. People jog along, they 
have their good days. And then, I mean, a girl of Armorel's intelligence 
must know what she's in for when she marries a very poor man. She 
knew she'd got nothing but a hole-and-corner sort of life to look for- 
ward to — she told me so herself. I've offered her more money but she 
doesn't seem to want it. I don't really see what else one can do." 

He had stopped again and was gazing over to the blurred skyline 
of Grosvenor Place as if something there might help him. 

"I mean to say, she must be used to that sort of life by now — 
nearly twelve years, isn't it! And you know, last time I was there she 
really seemed quite cheerful. She made some joke about what's-his- 
name, that dreadful little man who lives in the back room upstairs. 
And she's not a girl who makes jokes as a rule." 

Elizabeth said slowly: "I doubt if poverty or wealth has any- 
thing to do with it. I know a bit about these things. People from the 
opposite ends of the economic pole can join up and live in perfect 
contentment — on less money than Gian earns now. Armorel doesn't 
want luxuries, anyway, she's not that kind. The question always is 
whether people accept the same fundamentals." 

Heavens, what words the girl used! Like Armorel herself in one 
of her studentisch moods. He protested : 

"You're really going a bit too deep for me to follow!" 

"It frightens me," she said. 

Those words affected Raymond almost as if a gun had been fired 
behind his head: Elizabeth, a creature who took life so serenely, 
'frightened': and in that terribly quiet voice! 

"Frightens you?" he repeated foolishly. 

"Her living so completely alone. All the doors locked and bolted." 

310 



"Locked and — ? Oh, I see what you mean. At least, 1 suppose I do. 
But then some people enjoy living like that, in a kind of moral hermi- 
tage. I can imagine it being exhilarating, in a curious way." 

"Not for a woman. And not in a place like Weald Street." 

And now the pleasure had gone out of Raymond's day. Disturbing 
as the world had grown — the newspapers black with unreasonable dis- 
contents, everybody wanting more wages or more colonies — one hoped 
at least to find a little peace in familiar places, in civilized manners, 
among friends of one's own kind. He had looked forward so much to 
this meeting, when if they talked of Armorel it should be with friendly 
warmth, perhaps with some very gentle, allusive laughter at her trifling 
weaknesses. That fragrance was lost for today. There were lights in 
the Piccadilly windows, the cars flowing towards the Circus were like 
fishes with incandescent eyes: here the stink and chatter of the town 
came to them like an offshore wind across the sodden turf, and slowly 
as they were walking they must presently be embedded in the barn- 
dance. He said with nervy abruptness: 

"That man — what did you say his name was? Aquillard — is she 
still in touch with him, do you know?" 

"No. He writes to her sometimes. She doesn't answer." 

"Well, that's a relief, anyway." 

"Is it? Contented people aren't afraid of writing letters." 

"That welfare-worker fellow — Grist," he said doggedly pursuing 
his own line, "there never was anything between her and him, was 
there?" 

"There was, in a way." 

"But that's all over, I suppose." 

"Yes. Except that these things are never quite all over. Not for 
us, at least." 

He stopped once more and gazed at the diorama of mist and light 
like a child at his first pantomime. 

"Well, there can't be anything much to worry about," he said. 

Of course women would always talk in that fashion ; it was the way 
their minds worked, even in such a woman as Elizabeth. Having gorged 
themselves on the entremets of fiction they scoured the lives of their 
acquaintance for equivocal situations, and where nothing was to be 
found there was everything to be invented. He had asked her in suffi- 
ciently plain terms whether she thought Armorel was at all involved 
with other men and she had practically confessed that there was not 



311 



the smallest evidence of it. What then? In this business there was an 
element of jealousy, perhaps, since that feeling was seldom entirely 
absent from the relationship of two handsome women. Elizabeth had 
everything that money could buy, yes. But did she not faintly envy her 
friend the almost canine devotion of a husband so curiously chosen? 
Envy her, perhaps, the pluck with which she had built a life on such 
crazy foundations? For that was what he himself saw first in Armorel, 
a courage amounting almost to heroism. Possibly he over-admired it, 
having no courage himself: with the caprice of heredity, that part of 
the common strain which she possessed in such abundance had been 
denied to him. But surely no one who saw how spotless she kept that 
dismal dwelling, how calmly but how firmly she managed all the affairs 
of her overloaded and heterogeneous household, could fail to marvel 
at such unwearying fortitude; and must not a woman in Elizabeth's 
position, with the brambles swiftly cut away from any path she chose, 
be at least a little envious of one who had heart and muscle to carve 
a road for herself? That would account for everything, Elizabeth's 
change of voice, her curious innuendoes: and perhaps the damp tris- 
tesse of the Park had worked on her a little — she must be cold, with 
those fanciful stockings. 

"A marvel to me how she manages," he said, his thoughts slopping 
over. 

But why had he received such a shock when she said Tt frightens 
me'? Had there been, these last few months, some subterranean stream 
in his own mind to which those words had given escape? He had 
suffered, of course, from the common anxiety which hung in the air 
like the breath of coming snow, a malaise reflected alike in the faces 
of the prosperous and the hungry as he saw them in his morning train. 
Ten years ago, with the German nonsense settled^ one had presumed 
that things would return to normal: and so little had this happened 
that even he had begun to doubt whether there was such a thing as 
normality. Now, from over in Europe, and even in this city of his own 
where omnibuses ran to schedule and all the traffic stopped in obedience 
to one man's arm, there were voices questioning the very axioms of 
order and civilization with such persistence that he had changed his 
newspaper and begun in a superstitious way to go to church again. All 
that, he supposed, was at the bottom of his disquietude — no need to 
call it his fear. And yet, as he tried to trace the source of this faint 
reverberation of danger, and would have searched far out in the wilder- 



312 



ness of general anxieties, he was led inexorably to the spot where Eliza- 
beth had placed it: to Armorel herself. It was at Weald Street that 
he had begun to be frightened. 

"Of course," he said, "you go there more often than I do." And 
trusting her good manners, which should prevent her giving undue 
value to vague suggestions, he added: "You must tell me if ever you 
think there's anything I can do." 

Yes, coming away after that last visit to Weald Street he had been 
uneasy. Of course he was always low-spirited in that part of London, 
which in some incomprehensible way made him feel inferior and even 
slightly unreal. But his mind had fidgeted all the way back in the train 
and even later, when he sat at home surrounded by his own things and 
writing one of his graceful, faintly ironic letters to Edith Cepinnier, 
it had not been entirely stilled. Rellie had been so bright, but he 
thought there had been a note of falsity (no, one could not use the 
word 'hysteria') in her cheerfulness. "Yes," she had said, "Gian spends 
most of his Sunday at that sub-Utopia of Trevon Grist's — he's getting 
to be called the Uncrowned King of Apostles' Court!" Well, a fellow 
of Ardree's callow perceptions could not have been affected by the 
whisper of sarcasm in that remark, since her smile had been fully lit 
by the time she turned her face to him. And after all, husbands and 
wives did give each other these little pricks, and suffered no harm. Gian 
had been very silent all the time that Rellie was talking about little 
Gordon's difficult-ness, the way she had dealt with the trouble over 
Mrs Lewis's broken milk bottles, the psychiatrist's recommendations: 
that, presumably, was because such talk was far above his head. No, it 
was a little later that Raymond had been slightly disturbed, when Gian 
said something about taking Tonie to hear the carols at Southwark and 
Rellie had casually interposed: "Oh, Gian dear, I meant to tell you, 
that's off. I said she couldn't go if she disobeyed me and went into 
Mrs Shermy's house again, and I found her going in this morning." 
Tonie, sitting in her little chair in the corner with a book, had merely 
thrown a questioning glance at her father. Gian had not looked angry, 
only disappointed; or rather, something more than that — stunned with 
disappointment, Raymond would have said: and presently, without 
having spoken, he had gone very quietly upstairs and Raymond had 
not seen him again. 

He caught just the end of Elizabeth's answer: "... You see, 
there are certain things which you could say and which I can't." 



313 



''What?" he said. "Well, I don't know." 

The words 'frightened . . . danger' were repeated in his mind like 
a silly tune that one picks up from the whistling of errand boys; they 
had started the small current of physical fear which he had felt in 
August '14, phlegm in the nasal sinuses, a continuing tachycardia. That 
look of Ardree's . . . Well, naturally the fellow had been disappointed, 
having arranged a treat for the child and finding his arrangment spoilt ; 
but life was full of such small disappointments. Better, he thought, if 
the man had been firm, even given vent to a burst of temper; for when 
the simple conserved their emotions there was a risk of fermentation. 

"I've got a good deal of faith in Gian Ardree," he heard himself 
saying. "Very quiet, very patient; a thoroughly honest sort of chap." 
(And that, surely, was true enough.) "No polish, of course; but really, 
you know, his manners astonish me — he's got the true sense of good 
manners. Much more so than half the men in my club." 

Rellie would come to me, he thought, if there were any danger. 
(Danger?) For he imagined that every married woman kept in her 
mind's recesses the name of someone she would turn to if things went 
wrong. He was straining to make his own faint memories of marriage 
project a picture of what it might feel like from the other side: the 
utter dependence, the terror that must descend if the safety of that 
dependence wore thin. Fantastic, to let such notions wreathe about the 
figure of Armorel, with the tranquil command she held over herself 
and those about her! How she would mock him if she knew! And then, 
'Like being locked in a high room,' he thought, 'and catching the smell 
of fire.' 

"You talk about my thin stockings," Elizabeth said, " — it's you 
who are cold! You're shivering." 

Shivering? Surely not physically, so that anyone could see! 

"No one can take care of herself better than Armorel," he said 
didactically. "The one thing she simply would not tolerate is any in- 
terference — even from me." And then, nervous of contradiction, aware 
that he had used a rougher-grained voice than the one he kept for her, 
he stumbled on: "And you know, my dear, I really feel — I mean, 
women can lay their hearts open to each other in a way they can't 
with men. I mean, supposing you had some sort of emotional trouble, 
you know what I mean (I'm not suggesting that it's likely) — well, I'm 
the very last person you'd tell about it. But, on the other hand, you 
might very easily go and talk it over with Armorel." 



314 



She smiled then, rather strangely. "Not Armorel," she said. And 
then: "About her troubles, yes — if she wanted. Not about mine." 

"But listen," he persisted, "supposing Michael was being fearfully 
difficult, as all boys are at one time or another. Well, then, surely you 
would want to compare notes with another mother. Of course it's un- 
thinkable that Michael would ever be difficult — " 

"He is sometimes," she said. "Not naughty, I don't mean — he's a 
wonderfully good boy. But nervy at times." 

"Nervy?" Raymond felt himself relaxing, like a traveller who 
chances on a familiar route after days in unmapped country. Michael 
— what safer and more sympathetic subject had they in common? I 
am rather a clever man really, he thought. "Oh, no," he said, "I 
should never use that word for Michael. Or 'highly strung', or any of 
those other tiresome phrases. He's merely a child of very delicate per- 
ceptions." 

"Like his father." 

"His father?" They had come out into the street at last, and 
though he regretted leaving the Park — its loneliness, the tones of smell 
and colour with which it responded to the year's mood — he felt safer 
with these more robust familiarities, the tissue of busy voices and the 
odour of wealth which hotels spilt out across the damp pavement. He 
crooked his arm for her to take. "Curious, I've never thought of your 
husband just in that way." (All this was deliciously trodden ground.) 
"Of course, I see him as the man in the street does, and his major quali- 
ties dim the minor ones. I think of his immense capacity for detail, 
the extraordinary nerve he must have to carry so many responsibilities 
at the same time. You know, when a man doth bestride the narrow world 
like a Colossus one finds it difficult to think of him in ordinary human 
terms. What I mean is — " 

"Henry isn't Michael's father," she interrupted. 

He said, although he had heard her perfectly: "I'm sorry — what 
did you say?" 

"I'd rather you kept that to yourself," she continued in the same 
voice. ('Quite casually,' he thought afterwards, when he tried to recall 
it.) "It's possible that everyone will have heard before long. But at 
present no one has. I know you won't talk about it." (Then she did 
trust him! So much, at least, was retrieved from this spoilt, disturbing, 
oddly humiliating day.) "I think perhaps I'll ride the rest of the way — 
I did rather a lot of walking this morning." 



3^5 



And that, at any rate, was characteristic of the Elizabeth he knew: 
to say the right thing at the awkward moment, never to leave em- 
barrassing gaps. She had given him the chance to cover his confusion 
with masculine fuss and he took it with both hands, he sprang at a 
commissionaire, "You — get me a cab!" and stabbed the man's palm 
with half-a-crown, he stood far out in the road himself and held his 
umbrella like the forbidding angel's sword, shouting at the nonchalant 
taxis with the voice of a demented sergeant-major. 

"Oh, Raymond," she said, when a driver had been scared into 
submission and he had seized the door of the taxi and jerked it open, 
"have I made you late for something?" 

"Me?" 

"You seem in such a hurry. I shouldn't have talked so much." 

"But it's you," he said almost indignantly, still holding the door 
for her. "You said you wanted to get home — of course you want to get 
home. I've kept you wandering about for hours in that draughty park, 
I've never behaved so badly in my life. Get in, my dear — I'll have you 
home in ten minutes." 

"But I'd rather go by myself — may I, please?" 

"Oh, but—" 

"It was a lovely lunch! Mille remerciments T 

Well, better that way than to sit beside her for ten minutes 
fumbling for something to say. He must have breathing-space, it was all 
too upsetting, that badgering over Armorel and then this quite in- 
credible statement about Michael. Surely it makes her a different per- 
son, he thought, standing a yard outside the kerb and watching the 
taxi's rear light as it was sucked into the swirl of Hyde Park Corner. 
It may even damage our relationship. 

"Another cab, sir?" the commissionaire asked. 

"What? Yes. I mean — certainly not!" 

Haunted as the well-to-do are by capricious notions of economy, 
he joined the crowd waiting for buses. He was pitiably depressed. At 
lunch he had been in superlative form, the P.M. had spoken to Eliza- 
beth charmingly, Raymond had felt that everyone was admiring his 
taste. Then, in the Park, where their talk should have been as intimate 
and agreeable as a game of bezique, it had passed right out of his 
control and all the proficiency on which he so prided himself had failed 
to restore it to their private key. Something to do with those damned 

316 



moor-hens, he thought; and he had actually found himself wondering 
if Elizabeth had changed. 

"King's Cross," he said to the conductor. He invariably came to 
town by the steam line instead of getting the tube at Golders Green as 
his neighbours did nowadays: if the electric railways were going to push 
right out into the countryside they would get no encouragement from 
him. 

And on top of that she had calmly told him, herself, that she was 
something different from what he had always imagined. At the first 
instant he had supposed she referred to an earlier marriage, one of 
which, astoundingly, she had never before spoken a word: but, no — 
if she had meant that, she would not have required his secrecy. Well, 
he was not the man (he told himself) to be perturbed over the pec- 
cadilloes of the distant past: he had his views on these matters, but 
they were now, as he recognized, unfashionable views. The real trouble 
was that the disclosure removed her, if only a little way, from the 
special class to which, in his mind, she had always belonged. A delicate 
friendship with himself, where all the proprieties were scrupulously 
regarded on both sides, was one thing: a clandestine liaison was some- 
thing different, and however you looked at it, whatever allowances you 
made for the stresses of youth and an incongruous marriage, there was 
in such an affair a taint of vulgarity. Ordinary women did these things 
in moments of frailty. Hitherto, he had not regarded Elizabeth as an 
ordinary woman. 

"Not running!" he said to the man at the barrier. "The 5.17!" 

Something, apparently, to do with the coal situation. There was 
nothing you could rely on these days. For a few moments, standing 
near the bookstall and reading the headlines of the evening paper, he 
was soothed by the movement of the stream pouring past him, dark 
coats and flesh-coloured stockings, blue overalls, a couple already in 
evening-dress. {Wife Strangled with Pyjama Cord — Alleged Confession 
— how oddly people behaved in the unimaginable country west of 
Maida Vale ! ) The faces emerging from shadow and passing on towards 
the platforms were resolute with trivial intentions, strangely uniform 
of mien despite their variety of feature, composed and commonplace 
faces. Democracy, he thought, and that was something he liked to 
watch, so long as no one asked him to get mixed up with it. This cur- 
rent would flow while the world lasted, and the schooled, impervious 
faces would not change. But the curious winds that dart and flutter in 



317 



that station were creeping up under his coat, the sense of disquiet came 
back like flood water through a flimsy dam. It no longer satisfied him 
to murmur that the times were out of joint, and the pronouncement that 
people get on best when left to manage their own affairs came only in 
the hoarse voice of a peddling quack. He was faintly conscious of some 
inadequacy within himself. 

A foreigner passed him, cutting across the stream; a Sicilian, he 
thought it might be, a swarthy, short-backed fellow who looked con- 
fused and frightened. What were such people doing and thinking, did 
the police keep track of them? He must try once again to persuade 
Rellie to come out to Finchley, with Tonie and Gordon if need be, 
and there, in his own room, he could talk to her more easily: in a 
general way, of course: about the prejudices that simple people had, 
with perhaps a passing reference to the way in which the Latin tempera- 
ment differed from one's own. Or perhaps he would write, getting Eliza- 
beth or someone to deliver the letter by hand. He could express himself 
so much better in writing, taking his time, enjoying the feel of his 
padded chair and the exact, harmonious movement of the gold pen over 
the faultless surface of his notepaper. Really the effect of writing might 
be better. He was most anxious not to be alarmist, to avoid giving her 
the smallest hint that he suspected any maladjustment. After all, if 
one steadfastly believed a situation to be entirely healthy there was 
always a reasonable chance it might become so. 

He turned up his collar, instinctively glancing round to make sure 
that his tailor was nowhere about, and started moving towards the plat- 
form for the 5.46. In the train he might feel better; there would be faces 
and opinions he knew, and the pressure of his own realities would make 
the sitting-room at Weald Street a little more unreal. The noise wrap- 
ping thickly about his ears, shreds of talk woven in the screech and 
snore of locomotives, was a lenitive for his senses: it subdued, though 
it could not silence, the recurring whisper from that inexplicable Eliza- 
beth, 'It frightens me!' Frightens me/ Frightens me? In a child's 
questioning glance, a workman's look of disappointment, there was no 
cause to be frightened. Unhappy, he went on towards the front of the 
train, where the first-class carriages would be; walking a little faster, 
as if with that physical show of resolution he could leave the whisper 
behind. 



318 



28 



R 



EACHiNG THE flat, Elizabeth changed quickly into older clothes. 
Then, with half an hour to spare before starting for her regular visit 
to Bidault's Place, she took out the letter which she had begun to 
write this morning: 

My own precious Michael, 

All the proper news is in a letter inside the parcel I am 
sending you. This is one which you can keep to read carefully 
when you have a Httle time to yourself. It's rather a difficult one 
to write, because it's about a lot of grown-up business. But you 
are a most understanding son, and we do know each other so very 
well, don't we, and we do absolutely trust each other. 

She read that over twice, wondering if it carried her own voice, if 
Michael would hear her speaking and feel her hand in his armpit. Then 
she tore it up. She would go dovra at the week-end and take him out 
in a car: it should be within the will power of any human being to keep 
emotion under control for an hour or more, to speak without letting 
tears come into the voice. 

Lying down, she turned up the shade of the bedside lamp a little 
so that she should not fall asleep: in the early morning, when she 
desperately needed sleep, she would have to pay for any she pilfered 
now. She said to Lucy, who came with a cup of tea, "No, thank-you, 
dear, there's nothing else I want," and the elderly maid went back to 
her own room. 

A wasted day: in trying to make Raymond a little less supine 
she had merely thrown him off his balance and spoilt things for them 
both. Earlier, she had rather wildly thought of asking him to break the 
ground with Michael, who had some fondness for such an amenable 
'uncle' and would have listened at least without alarm to anything that 
reached him in that sedate and pompous voice. But the idea was pal- 
pably hopeless: if Raymond ever agreed to so positive an undertaking 
he would probably forget the object of the journey before he arrived 
at the school. Wasted: yes, but all these years had been wasted. She 
had been no use. 

By remaining very still she fastened the evening pain, which was 
bad today, in one place behind her eyes; there she could hold it as one 
holds a hot cup in accustomed hands, and the dim, continuous noise 



319 



of the Knightsbridge traffic, filtering into the quiet room, dulled it a 
little. It would stay keen enough to keep her awake. 

Use? "Nothing is worth giving unless you give yourself." The voice, 
Northumbrian in shape, smoked by the passage of almost thirty years, 
still sounded like the voice of God. She could remember the feel of the 
carpet giving place to naked floor where she stood barefoot and shiver- 
ing by a communicating door in the Glasgow hotel; hearing Mother's 
tearful voice and then that single sentence in her father's^ the quiet, 
the ultimately certain voice of one who has hacked away all but the 
core of his beliefs. Her impression of his face, as he stood looking up 
to her window at Dinstead, as he sat impassively in the Greenock 
tender, had lost all outline; the photographs awoke no recollection. He 
remained as one whose rare gestures of tenderness had been immeasur- 
ably precious and whose wisdom had been absolute for her. Give your- 
self: but to what, and with what intrinsic object? They had kept the 
letter from the British Association which came just after the news of 
his death: "... with his unique analytical gifts and his selfless devo- 
tion to archaeological science there is no doubt that, but for this 
tragedy, he would greatly have enlarged our knowledge of Aymara and 
Quichua cultures . . ." Give yourself to a notion, then, to a bloodless 
belief, the fiUing of gaps in codices on dusty shelves? Or if, as she 
thought, to people, then to what interest of theirs? 

On the little chest-of-drawers, half-full of Hilda Nicholedd's things, 
the photographs stood like the epochal, unrelated illustrations which 
punctuate illustrious Lives: the Cottage taken from Jowett's farm, 
Mother with Caesar and Jemima, Henry in court dress. Only two had 
retained the power to move her, and one of those was of Armorel in 
her wedding gown. She stretched and brought it to the bed to study 
more closely the delicate shaping of the face, the sweet immaturity 
which surrounded a faintly smiling mouth and still, decisive eyes. 'For 
Elizabeth, with my love.' 

'T implore you to give her all the love you can find," Gordon had 
written in one of his half-hysterical letters, "since she will no longer 
take any from me"; and to Gordon, with the cavernous loneliness be- 
neath his towering assurance, she could refuse nothing. The passion 
she had summoned to answer his desperate need in the tumbled village 
on a Greek hillside, once in a drab hotel in Cromwell Road, had sought 
an afterglow when its ephemeral life was spent ; and it was natural that 
the strong current of her pity should flow to another whom her pre- 



320 



cipitancy had helped to injure. Was this all that had happened? Could 
remorseful pity pretending to be love have endured so long that even 
now she was stirred when the rare letters came in Armorel's hand, still 
beginning 'Dearest Elizabeth'? And was not the unreason in her con- 
tinuing emotion the very hall-mark of love? For bare pity, she thought, 
does not demand a return, it scarcely asks for gratitude. Perhaps what 
she had hoped from Armorel was to see fulfilled in her the kind of future 
she had once imagined for herself. In Armorel she had found a creature 
endowed with the grace and gentleness which are power translated into 
other terms, together with a resolution which would accept no com- 
promise, no facile satisfactions: the heroic brought to dear reality in 
a knitted jersey and small, skilful hands, in easy gestures of affection 
and responsive smiles. With her own life drained of nearly all its 
meaning she could not have been impassive to one so rich in promise: 
all the discerning tenderness with which experience had uselessly en- 
dowed her had been ready to serve so steadfast a traveller on so dan- 
gerous a journey, and it was ready still. But there was between lover 
and loved that thin, tensile surface which reflects without absorbing; 
they had drawn no closer and the years were gathering speed; she 
wondered now if in their long, shy friendship she had been of the 
smallest use, if loneliness would at last narrow the gap, if she could 
ever truly serve her at all. 

From the Rouvray photograph Henry's clear eyes looked out at 
her with the kindness of contentment. She had been of use to him. Not 
only, she believed, as a decoration of his progress. He had never asked 
her for advice, for it was not in his nature to request advice from his 
subordinates: but in their early years he had left a hundred decisions 
to her judgement with casual phrases, 'You have it the way you like, my 
dear!' . . . 'You must make up your own mind, lass, I haven't the 
time'; he would deftly lead their talk to get her opinion on people's 
social value; and he had never ceased to cock his note-taking ear (his 
eyes still fixed on whatever he was reading) if she spoke of things which 
were being done, worn or seen by people who had no need to worry 
over what they did, wore or looked at. Yes, she seemed to have done 
what he required, and now that her service was drawing to its end she 
doubted if a personal secretary, trained and paid, would have given him 
better value. It was foolish and no doubt unjust to complain that he 
had required so little. In five years' time, she thought, as her eyes 
were drawn magnetically to the small boy gravely fondling a toy 



321 



Dalmatian Michael will be starting to make his own engagements and 
to feel gayer when I am not there; then my use as a person, as myself, 
will be finished. 

The telephone chirred and the voice of Norah Chilcott arrived 
like a carriage and pair rolling into a sleepy homestead. 

"Elizabeth, my dear, I've only just heard the news about Austin 
Nicholedd. I am so sorry — so is Matthew. It's a terrible thing — I sup- 
pose he was only in the early forties. Of course there's so much reck- 
less driving over there. I suppose Henry's dreadfully upset — he's always 
been devoted to Austin, hasn't he!" 

Elizabeth said patiently: "Yes, it was a shock to Henry — I've 
heard from him, of course. They'd worked together for a long time." 

"What do you think poor Hilda will do? I suppose she'll come 
home at once?" 

"No, I think she's staying over there for the time being. She has 
a lot of American friends." 

"Oh, I know she has! Tell me, dear, do you know which hotel 
she's staying in? I feel I ought to write." 

"She's at the Wethouder." 

"Oh, and could you give me Henry's address? I know Matthew 
wants to write to him." 

"He's at the Wethouder too." 

*'0h. Is there any chance of your going over to join him?" 

"No." 

"But you know, you ought to have a change." 

"Do you think so?" 

There was a pause in which Elizabeth, hearing Norah's breathing, 
could picture the lacquer crinkling at the corners of the old woman's 
mouth. Then she heard: 

"I mean, I should have thought it would be a good thing from 
every point of view. Of course, dear, it's no business of mine, but you 
know what stupid things do make people talk." 

"My own friends don't," Elizabeth said: she was, after all, in pain. 
"And I don't so terribly mind about Henry's." 

Norah said: "My dear, how peculiar your voice sounds! I sup- 
pose it's the telephone. Listen, Matthew and I want to have a little 
party, specially for you. A sort of consoling party, you might say. At 
Sagrestano's, we thought. Just to get you out of yourself a bit." 

"Out of what?" 



322 



"Out of yourself, dear. You do like Sagrestano's, don't you?" 

"Yes, except for the people who run the place and the people who 
go there." 

"But, Elizabeth, you told me once that you loved it!" 

"Perhaps I was out of myself then." 

"This line's simply dreadful." 

"Yes," Elizabeth said, letting the receiver alight on the cut-out 
as gently as a butterfly, "it gets worse and worse." 

'Out of yourself: so much of her life had been spent out of her- 
self that she began to doubt whether she had ever lived within, whether 
there was any self to return to. In the end it did not matter: you lived 
in other people, in Henry, in Michael, in Armorel, and your flame sur- 
vived only in the heat of their fires. Hers would flicker, perhaps, so 
long as Michael cared for her, spared her a few of his secrets. But after 
that? Could any fire be livened by a faggot which had stood so long in 
the rain, would there be anything left to burn? In these last months she 
had felt herself beginning to grow old. It frightened her, but not exactly 
as others are frightened. She was not much troubled by the prospect of 
ageing in appearance, for hers, she thought, had been chilled by early 
illnesses; or of being friendless, since she had many friends; or of the 
slackening that must come in her powers and sensibilities. Rather she 
dreaded that as the few who seemed to need her dwindled she would 
gradually lose belief in human need and at last in human values. Lying 
here alone in a room she had come to hate for its infections, troubled 
by the light but fearing to turn down the shade, she foresaw herself an 
old woman living upon a thread of transient impulses; selfish, and bored 
with her own selfishness; hungry for pity and despising those who gave 
it; spiteful, not from malice but because the faiths which would have 
moved her gentleness were all dried up. 

She stirred, shifting the pain into a fresh position, and held it there 
grimly as she slid her feet to the floor. "Michael!" she whispered, seeing 
him in hospital again, watching him run and stumble on the lawn at 
Easterhatch, hearing his grave voice ('I expect I shall be decently 
treated. Mother') at the railway-carriage window, "You won't leave 
me altogether, Michael, whatever happens? You'll make use of me some- 
times?" But the telephone was buzzing again. 

"No, he's still abroad . . . Yes, this is Lady Kinfowell." 

"I'm so sorry to trouble you — I wonder if you could possibly help 
me." The male voice was young, emollient, only a trifle over- varnished. 



323 



"This is the Collimator News Service, we rather want if we can to check 
up on an item about Sir Henry in one of the Pittsburgh papers. It's 
not really important, only — " 

This, obviously enough, was where she should have broken off the 
conversation Being human, she asked: 

''What item? Which paper?" 

"Well, it's a very unimportant paper really, mostly local gossip, 
you know the sort of thing, only naturally it would print anything inter- 
esting about your husband because of his steel interests there." 

"Yes, but—" 

"It's in a column by a man who calls himself Peeping Tom. It's all 
the most fearful rubbish, but some of his stuff gets syndicated — " 

"You've got it there? Then you'd better read it to me." 

"Well, it's about the death of a man called Austin Nicholedd — I 
expect you know of him. A lot of sob-stuff, you know — so young, bril- 
liant tennis-player, that sort of thing. Then it says, 'Heart of all Pitts- 
burgh goes out to lovely Mrs Hilda Nicholedd, noted star of London 
Social Firmament, well-known here and generous donator to Duquesne 
University — ' " 

"How moving I" 

"Yes. Then we get this: 'Very small bird or maybe long-eared dor- 
mouse whispers your Peeper that interesting announcement on this Top 
Rank Beauty may break soon. And with coloured stars, making worthy 
Pittsburghers guess again where they come in with Britishers on speed 
record issue.' " 

"Is that all?" 

"Not q lite. It goes on: 'Tom spoke London Finance King Sir 
Henry Kinfowell, business buddy of Nicholedd, handing condolences 
to Hilda in fashionable Kickapoo Bar on Allegheny Boulevard. Strong, 
silent Financier Kinfowell gave best imitation of strong, silent British 
financier Tom ever seen. But grinned plenty.' " 

"Nothing else?" 

"Well, there is. There's a picture stuck into the column — it's a very 
bad picture, quite unrecognizable — it shows a girl in nurse's uniform 
and an English officei. Sitting outside what looks like a sort of 
estaminet," 

"Yes?" 

"And the caption says, 'Back Home: Lady Elizabeth Kinfowell 
with soldier friend.' Nothing else. And that's the only picture in the 
column." 



324 



^^I see." 

"You see what I mean — there are half a dozen different inferences 
that people might draw — " 

"As many as that?" 

"And the reason I'm troubling you is this: If that column gets into 
some of the offices over here it's more than likely that the London 
papers will be on to us about it — we're very strong on the States side 
and they rely on us a good deal to tell them whether stuff that comes 
over in the Yank blatts is phony or otherwise. So I just thought you 
might be able to give me something which would kill this story stone 
dead. I mean, that would help us, because it's almost as much our busi- 
ness to kill phony stories as to dig out the real McCoy, and from your 
own point of view — " 

"I'm afraid I've no point of view," she said. "If any of the London 
papers want to make use of that paragraph it's up to them to judge 
how near libel they can afford to get. I imagine they keep their own 
lawyers for just that purpose." 

"Oh, but I hope you understand — " 

"Perfectly!" 

Having rung off, she hesitated for a few moments and then called 
Trunks. "Northampton 8655." In a restless, idle fashion her mind made 
varying sketches of Peeping Tom: a brassy blonde from some western 
university in a Stoltmann pinafore frock, a tired old gin-soak anxiously 
peregrinating between the speak-easies, grateful for any fag-end of 
scurrility which would help to pay the next instalment on his Chevrolet. 
Clever, to have got that photograph, exactly at the right time. She 
vaguely remembered the one, a pop-eyed little R.A.M.C. sergeant had 
taken it and sent her prints when she was back in London. Yes, this 
would be the "additional item" which Henry had spoken of in his letter, 
and someone in the Peeping Tom connection must have got to business 
with a room-waiter or a lawyer's stenographer. Did the sense of achieve- 
ment glow brightly enough to reward such industry? 

"Your call to Northampton — speak up, please!" 

The voice that said "Hullo!" was faintly northern, a little strident 
with emancipation; from behind it there was audible the clamorous 
voice of a child. 

"Mrs Aquillard speaking." 

"Oh, Rhoda, this is Elizabeth Kinfowell — how are you, dear?" 

"Me? Oh, going great guns — apart from this accursed prolapsus, 



325 



you know. (Stephen, will you stop that filthy noise!) I'm afraid Gor- 
don's out — did you want to speak to him? — he's lecturing some damned 
society. Sorry, can't hear, these kids are all out of hand." 

From seventy miles away Elizabeth could hear how precariously 
the metallic assurance was kept in that voice. She remembered how 
Rhoda's telephone was placed in the sitting-room, where with the doors 
open you saw the pram, the gas-cooker and the dustbins almost in one 
line. 

"How is he?" she asked. 

"Oh, well enough, you know. Bit nervy. Still, that's what I'm 
here to look after. (No, Martin, you must wait! ) He did get your letter. 
Was that what—?" 

"He's told you, of course?" 

"Yes, he's told me what's likely to happen. It's all going to be 
rather cheap and tiresome. StiU, these things happen, I suppose. I 
merely hope the university shamans won't take up an old-fashioned 
attitude." 

"Rhoda dear, I can't tell you how grieved I am — I wish we could 
have a talk — " 

"I'm afraid life's terribly full just at present. I'll tell Gordon you 
rang." 

"And you'll give him my love? And to you, dear." 

"I expect he'll ring you back." 

The voice, the cramped and anxious life surrounding it, were sub- 
merged in the effervescence of mechanical sounds. For a few moments 
she went on holding the receiver as if some message might come from 
that pandemonium, but the voice she heard now was faint from the 
years that had washed over it, "Yes, I know it's madness, but it's the 
only thing to save me from going mad." She sat by the electric fire to 
put on her shoes, shivering a little, and the picture which would never 
fade out lit in her mind for a moment with peculiar vividness, carrying 
its special aroma as the memory of a dream does: the shadow of the 
canvas bowl thrown by a hurricane lamp onto the stone wall, the rest- 
less stamp of mules in the yard outside; Gordon's dark shape on the 
camp-bed, his voice fluttering like a scared child's, "No, I had no 
idea that being frightened could be quite so bloody as this . . . Yes, 
my dear, I'm off in exactly four hours' time — tlskiib. So you probably 
won't be bothered with me again." I am being alone too much, she 
thought, putting on her coat. 

326 



She went to the Elephant by tube: it was all Henry's money, she 
wouldn't use a penny more than she need. How long had he known? 
she wondered again, floating like driftwood in the tangling currents of 
Piccadilly Station; no one saw far into the mind of such a man, the 
people he trusted most had keys only to one or two of its rooms. Per- 
haps his suspicion had begun in Michael's earliest weeks, when (to her 
at least) the structure of Gordon's temples and cheekbones had already 
begun to appear; for he had always shown even less interest in the boy 
than a general insensibility towards children would explain. As long 
ago as that he had probably commissioned someone to make inquiries 
about the Captain Aquillard whom he had once met at Victoria, to fol- 
low the lines of intelligent speculation and build up — in case he wanted 
it some day — another of the neat, grey folders she had often seen on his 
desk in London Wall. Well, she was in no position to complain. "You 
see how it is with women," a workman in the lift was saying, "they only 
go by what their feelings tell them, they don't have the power to rea- 
son." "Nobody knows," a boy sang cheerfully as the grille slammed 
open and the damp air, dragging at torn fly-sheets, bore coldly into 
her face the smell and clatter of the New Kent Road, "nobody knows 
— the trouble I've seen!" And if your spirit, she thought, could be 
possessed by the daedal anxieties and griefs of all these others, of a 
shivering lorry-driver who waited for the cross traffic to break, the 
tuberculous woman pushing a sack of coal in a pram, you might see 
your own as inflated, captious and trite. 

" 'I am cold' she faltered. 

'You must fasten your cloak,' was his careless response, and then, 
with an almost contemptuous gesture, he turned a^id pulled it roughly 
about her. 'If you think,' said he disdainfully, 'there is any warmth to 
be had from the horses' breath and my own, I shall lodge no objection 
to your tenancy of the seat beside mine.' Fearfully, as if that were a 
command, she placed herself in the seat he proffered. And they drove on 
through the thickening dusk, and the winding road rose steeply, and the 
dark and ancient forest closed in upon them, till she saw only the harscs' 
tossing manes, the snow flakes whirliiig in the pool of light which the 
carriage lamps cast forward, and above, where the pine tops joined like 
hands upraised in prayer, a solitary star. 'Tonight!' the Marquess mut- 
tered. 'Be it life or death, it must be settled tonight!' She slept; and 
when her eyes re-opened the lights of Chavencidres showed like a circlet 



327 



of diamonds in the valley jar below. A weight lay upon her shoulder, 
close and warm. It was Dieulouard's hand. She sighed, and instantly the 
hand was withdrawn. ^October has passed,^ breathed the Marquess, with 
pity and scorn burning like twin fires in his sombre eyes, 'and the neck- 
lace has not been found, and there where you see those lights your 
mistress waits for your reply. ^ That's the end of the chapter — shall I 
go on?" 

"I'd rather wait till next time you come," Empire's wife said. "I 
like to wonder what's going to happen next." 

A stranger would have sworn that she had not heard a word of it. 
She lay as usual with her face towards the window, where the curtains 
were never fully drawn, so that she would have a glimpse of anything 
that happened in Bidault's Place; and while the reading went on her 
lips were tightly fastened, as if she were having a wound dressed and 
must struggle not to cry out. Sometimes it was hard to believe that she 
was alive; even her eyes remained so still, and her skin had the colour 
and feel of death: certainly you would have said, from the scantiness 
of her grey hair, from her greying moustache and the way the structure 
of her mouth had collapsed, that she was a very old woman. In fact 
she was probably still under sixty — ^she did not know. 

She said, "Turn up the gas, dearie!" and Elizabeth obeyed. With 
the extra pressure the gas-fire poppled noisily, but Matilda did not mind 
that and Elizabeth had got used to it : like the smell of damp cupboards, 
the holes which castors had worn in the linoleum, it belonged to the 
cherished reality of this place where you could be at ease, where so 
little was expected. 

"I'll make your tea," she said. "You like this book?" 
Matilda was silent, still intent upon the gap between the curtains. 
Then she said: "Yes, I do remember that road." 

A year or two back (as she often recounted) she had been outside 
the room, feeling so unusually strong that she thought she could go for 
a walk; but had only got as far as the head of the stairs, where the 
sight of the broken banister had given her a giddy turn and she had 
collapsed on the floor, staying there till Charlie had come and carried 
her back. Since then she had made two or three excursions each day to 
the far side of the room, occasionally unsupported, sometimes moving 
from one piece of furniture to the next as children do when playing 
touch-wood. From her bed she could see perhaps thirty yards of the 
street, and that view included the heads and shoulders of people walking 
on the farther side. She had not left the house for over eleven years. 

328 



She turned her head slowly and suddenly smiled. 

"Silly," she said, "for her to go on like that! I'd have asked the 
foreign gentleman what he meant." 

"She was shy, I suppose." 

"Yes, yes!" 

The old woman fell into another silence, but the smile remained in 
her eyes like a pilot light and she was preparing herself to speak again. 
Elizabeth, watching sidelong how her hands moved below the bed- 
clothes, hearing the shift of phlegm in her throat, could tell almost 
exactly when the next words would come. But not what they would 
be; for though she had learnt the general movement of Matilda's mind 
she was still surprised again and again by the suddenness with which 
its gear was changed, the lightning alternations between lethargy and 
animation, the range of expression which the old woman commanded 
with her near-sighted eyes and with the gestures of her cramped, 
emaciated hands. 

"They've got it wrong," Matilda said. "There wasn't a place called 
what you said. Aberdeyrn, they might be thinking of." 

"Yes, they do make mistakes." 

"Those lights, they must have been the school-house. Miss Lewis 
used to be there very late, making the lessons for next day. You 
wouldn't see Plas-Mawr, not from there. Dainty, the road is that way, 
the trees and all." 

"Plas-Mawr — what's Plas-Mawr?" Elizabeth asked, knowing very 
well. 

"Plas-Mawr? That's where I had my first situation. Yes, yes, very 
good Mrs Owen was. And Mr Owen, a very big gentleman he was. Fond 
of the horses, Mr Owen was, only they frightened me. 'You don't want 
to go to London Matilda Williams,' Mr Owen used to say to me. 'Nor 
an5rwhere near London,' he used to say." 

"But you went!" 

Matilda smiled at her hands with a certain cunning. She said 
abruptly: "I think she is in love with the foreign gentleman, what do 
you think? I think her soul goes out to him like the little flowers 
stretch up towards the beautiful sun, you think so, bach?" 

"Well, yes, she seems to have very warm feelings for him." 

"And what would be the use of it, if he is a married gentleman, 
heh?" 

"Yes, that makes it all very difficult. Perhaps we shall find later 
on that his wife dies. I'm only guessing." 



329 



"Or perhaps the young girl can kill her?" 

"Oh, I hope not! A gentle girl like Hortense wouldn't do that, 
surely!" 

Matilda considered. "She is a wicked woman, the foreign gentle- 
man's wife, a sinner before the Lord and evil in all her ways, indeed 
yes, bach. I think Tonce will find her having her lay-down one after- 
noon and cut her neck with a knife, heh?" 

"But a girl like Hortense wouldn't know how to do that!" 

Matilda shrugged her shoulders. "She is a young girl from London, 
maybe. In London the young girls can cut the neck of a person, oh, yes! 
Over Union Road, where Charlie come courting, do you see, I see it 
with these two eyes, out in the road, yes! I see a great man put his 
hand on a young girl, and then she cut his neck with a knife — like 
that—" 

"But, Mattie, how dreadful! The idea of taking someone's life! Is 
your tea all right?" 

Lost in the memory, Matilda stared with a face of boredom at the 
cup which Elizabeth had given her. "Maybe he was a bad man," she 
said, and a moment afterwards a new smile took hold of her face. "Yes, 
yes, it is good tea! But you have not washed the saucer as I would, 
bach. Look, one spot here, another there." 

"I'm terribly sorry." 

Matilda stretched her claw-like hand and caught hold of Eliza- 
beth's wrist. 

"You will learn, bach!" she said. "It is all patience — I tell you 
that and I tell my other girl too — you cannot learn it all in a day, to 
do things how they are in a good place. Ah, that Daise, she is so slow, 
do you see, she is so blind, poor childelie!" 

"No," said Elizabeth firmly, "I can't have you saying that about 
Daise! Daise is a splendid worker and you know it." 

Matilda shut her eyes. "She is an angel, bach, she is a cherubim 
and seraphim. But she does not know how to work. Look at this room, 
indeed — all spider-web, dirty, dirty!" 

"That's nonsense, dear! You know I gave it a thorough do-out 
myself on Saturday." 

"I said to that Mrs Jan, I said, 'Daise is a good girl, she will do 
you as well as she can, three morning and two afternoon every week. 
But she does not know much,' I said. 'She has never been whipped,' I 
said to Mrs Jan." 



330 



^^Were you whipped, Mattie?" 

Matilda laughed. ^'How would I be any use if I was not whipped! 
On Saturday — Wednesdays sometimes, but only if I had been idle. My 
father was a good man, do you see, in all the Bible Christians he was 
the press-ident, do you see. And the best quarry man in all the country. 
And then I was whip by Charlie too, when we was married a little time. 
Yes, yes." 

Elizabeth asked quietly: "And you thought he was good, too?" 

The answer was matter-of-fact: "Yes, then he was a good man. 
Every day he read the Bible to me — you see, bach, when I was ten 
year old I went to work and forgot my schooling — and then we prayed 
to the good Lord, Charlie and me side by side, to find something for 
us to eat and somewhere to live where the rain would not come in. 
Then sometimes he beat me, because he said it was sinful to be pretty 
like me. Yes, yes, then he was a good man." 

She shut her eyes, but the smile that came to her mouth stayed 
there. So much talking tired her, yet Elizabeth encouraged it, feeling 
that the pleasure it gave the old woman was worth the price. And to 
listen was no longer a strain. Elizabeth had heard the tangle of dead 
ends and inconsistencies so often that she could fit the fragments easily 
into their place. Sometimes she could almost live within Matilda's mind; 
seeing with her eyes the penurious houses by the quarry at Llan-y- 
Troed, the lascivious face of Mr Livingwold appearing in the icy attic 
at Woolwich, hearing with the ears of a young Matilda the screams and 
blasphemies of the dark street she had looked at from the hovel in 
Rotherhithe. What she could not make her own was the calm acceptance, 
the stoicism verging upon relish, with which Matilda recalled those 
times. Perhaps this eleventh child had been so schooled in infancy to 
hardship that the roughness of later experience had scarcely bruised 
her; or else the screen through which she saw the past was opaque to 
misery, letting only the softer colours come through. But that was the 
picture of a simpleton; and in the wasted creature who lay motionless 
for hour after hour, clutched in a turmoil of shabby quilts like a root 
in the soil, and who would suddenly laugh or sing, could utter shrewd 
sarcasms on something you read her from the papers and flash at times 
with radiant anger, there was something besides simplicity. In a life 
like this, futureless, there could scarcely be any purpose; but with her, 
purpose seemed to be no necessity: she lived, and sometimes it appeared 



33^ 



that she lived splendidly, upon the riches of her submerged, untrellised 
mind. 

"You are tired, bach!" she said suddenly, without opening her 
eyes. 

"No, only tired of my thoughts." 

''What thoughts, duckie?" 

"Just stupid ones." 

Was it possible, she wondered, suddenly weak with fear, that 
Henry would take Michael away from her? Since she was to be the 
guilty party the law, she supposed, would give him that right, especially 
as the law could not treat Michael as unfathered. However little Henry 
cared for Michael he might value the dignity of having a son; and 
though he was not a cruel man if you thought of cruelty as passion (for 
a mind of that cast was aseptic to passions), his notion of justice — 
yes, that would be the word — might insist on his possessing what should 
have been his own. Would he risk his friends' opinions when he found 
she was ready to fight? And then, would the older boys at Michael's 
school get to hear of the contest, would there be covert grins in the 
dining-hall and snatches of crude innuendo across the forlorn untidiness 
of the change-room? How would he answer that — her Michael with 
his grave eyes, his shyness, his passionate loyalty? . . . 

"I think I hear your husband coming," she said. 

But Matilda's answer came before the street door had shut again : 
"No, that's Daise." 

She might well have gone away, for she had stayed longer than 
usual and when Daise was at home there was little for anyone else to 
do; but as soon as she left this house the gyration of her thoughts 
would be unhindered, and she dreaded that as people dread the place 
where street lamps end. Here, in the cane chair between the gas-stove 
and the washstand, she could stay as long as she pleased, warming her 
spirit in their workaday intimacy; for they had grown used to her 
presence and could talk as freely as if they were alone. 

There had been a time when she was jealous of Daise, for a skill 
that so far exceeded hers. That had passed, and now she could watch 
her bunching the pillow to support her mother's neck at the most restful 
slope, here loosening the bed-clothes where they lay too heavily, here 
tucking them to close a hollow space, with a respect in which only affec- 
tion intruded. The repulsion once inspired by the girl's deformity had 
gradually been thawed by her tender submission: warmed by the gentle 

332 



eyes Elizabeth had learned to kiss her, not dutifully but with the kind 
of pleasure there is in kissing a lover's scars. And this was tranquillity: 
to be with those who accepted her simply, to share for an hour a life 
which had no decorations and no pretence. It was Matilda's habit to 
grumble at her daughter: this bit of fish was undercooked, the bed- 
socks chafed where Daise had darned them, Daise was for ever putting 
things where they couldn't be found: and there were tart replies, 'Oh 
you!' 'Why can't you look where I do put things!' But one came to 
realize that the bickering was a fender which bore the rubs of a meagre 
existence, of illness and fatigue; beneath, there was a constant affection 
which showed itself in flashes of tenderness on the mother's part, in 
unwearying ministry on the daughter's. Here was love as the earth 
secretes it before the cutters and polishers have been at work. The 
narrow room which circumscribed their communion looked more like 
a theatre set than one where people lived; the deal wardrobe with its 
varnish graining, the caving wicker-chair, china mugs with the arms of 
Hartlepool, might all have been collected by a sedulous stage-manager 
as symbols of hopeless respectability in hard-fought retreat. There was 
none of the small poetry of softer lives, coffee and quietness by shaded 
reading-lamps, the admiration of old graces and new clothes, to sweeten 
the fellowship of this frowsty prisoner and the slipshod dwarf in 
stockinet who nursed her. And yet, it seemed to Elizabeth, they an- 
swered each other's needs in the way that lovers do, and from the 
meagreness of their field, perhaps from the very monotony of little 
actions constantly repeated, there had grown an understanding more 
exquisite and more robust than mere acceptance, rare like the flowers 
that grow from crevices in the Alpine rock. It was, she believed, enough 
for them. To her they had given their friendship, but they did not need 
her answering devotion; they could absorb only a little of the love she 
had waiting for a deeper channel to fill. 

She was drowsy; but when she let her eyes fall shut the face of 
Michael smiling wistfully would always show through the curtain. And 
these others, she thought, own nothing except peace. 

The argument that had started went on lazily, like a game of tennis 
between two idle players. 

"Then if you cannot keep it mended you must ask your dadda for 
some money for a new dress, surely!" 

"I don't get money off Dad." 

"But Dadda has a lot of money, surely." 



2>Z2> 



"I don't want that sort. Finish that up, Mum, and then I'll wash 
your face." 

"But, duckie, I told you last night, I said. 'There is a hole under 
your arm as big as a bald head.' What does Mrs Crockett say if she 
sees her working-maid with a hole under her arm as big as a bald 
head?" 

"You know quite well I wear an overall with Mrs Crockett. And 
anyhow I wasn't there today. Now keep quite still or you'll have the 
basin over." 

"Of course you were there today! " 

"You know I only do Mrs Crockett Saturdays now." 

"Well, this is Saturday, dearie." 

"It's not, Mum, it's Tuesday." 

"Tuesday? Oh, dearie, my poor head, my poor old head! Get me 
one of the pills, duckie — now where did you put those pills, the ones 
that Dr Hammid give me? So it was Mrs Jan you went to with the hole 
under your arm? And what did Mrs Jan say when she saw the hole 
there, as big as a bald head?" 

Daise said: "It don't matter what Mrs Jan says. I give her what 
she pay me for." Then she glanced at Elizabeth and her twittering 
voice went into a giggle of embarrassment. "Mrs Jan's got something 
better to do than to look for holes in my frock. She's on the go morning, 
noon and night." 

The embarrassment remained and was pitiful to see. At such a 
moment the girl became conscious of her deformity, her eyes went left 
and right instinctively looking for somewhere to hide. Elizabeth asked 
quickly: 

"Is little Gordon still giving her a lot of trouble?" 

"Gordon? No, Miss Liz. Gordon's been sent away." 

"Sent away?" 

"She send him to one of those places — I don't rightly know what 
you call them — a sort of school, it is, for kids what make theirselves a 
trouble. It's what the doctor said, Mrs Jan tell me, a special sort of 
doctor she have on him." 

"But how long for, Daise?" 

"A year to start with, she tell me. An' she don't see him all that 
time. Then if it don't act they keep him on longer." 

"And that is wickedness, indeed, yes!" Matilda said. In a spurt of 
indignation she sat upright, catching hold of Daise's dress as if she 



334 



were the culprit. "How would a little baby boy be all right without his 
mumma, say you!" 

Elizabeth interposed: "But he's not exactly a baby." 

"And who will make him good again unless it is his mumma to 
kiss him and his dadda to give him the strap?" 

"Mr Jan never would do that," Daise said quickly. 

Off her guard, Elizabeth asked: "What does Gian say about it?" 

Daise said evasively: "It ain't nothink to do with him. Mrs Jan, 
she see about it all." 

"I expect they talk things over in the evenings." 

"Jan don't talk much," Daise said simply. "He don't go studying 
up things what make into talk." 

Matilda had sunk onto one elbow, but her excitement was not ex- 
hausted. A pronouncement had been growing within her, vibrating the 
whole of her contracted body, and it issued in one piece: 

"That is wrong, I say, and I do not mind what anyone says at all. 
What would she marry him for, a great ugly man like that — what is 
the use of a great ugly husband if he will not tell his wife what to do! 
Indeed, she will make him angry. You say, 'Mattie Williams is a foolish 
old woman that never had schooling, what will she know about any- 
thing that goes on, yes!' But I tell you I have a forehead over my eyes, 
I listen, I think, when all the others are just talking and talking. I 
say if that great ugly Jan is not allowed to beat his own children he 
will get to be a passionate man, and that will not be a good thing for 
Mrs Jan, heh?" 

"But, Mattie, why in the world should he want to beat his chil- 
dren? I think Gian's a particularly kind person." 

The old woman smiled like a chess player who has set a trap and 
watches his opponent tumble in. She performed that shrug of the shoul- 
ders which was Gallic in feeling but peculiarly hers, her cratered palms 
turning slowly up and outward, her lips twisting slyly. 

"So then it was another Jan Ardree, say you, the one that threw 
down the policeman in the street so that his arm could never be used 
again, indeed, yes!" 

"But that was ever so long ago — thirteen or fourteen years." 

Matilda nodded; her smile remained. She said ironically: ".\nd 
now he is a kind man!" 

"Why do you call him ugly, Mum?" Daise asked shortly. 

^'Because the good Lord in his mercy give me two eyes." 



335 



"Well, a person can't help what they look like, can they!" 

Matilda did not immediately answer that. She pulled her daughter 
onto the bed, kissed her own fingers and pushed them up into Daise's 
hair. "But the good Lord give me other blessings also," she said. "He 
give me a baby girl with a pure and gentle heart, so the fornicators and 
the proud and froward men can do her no evil, childelie bach." 

It was partly curiosity, partly an itch for justice, which forbade 
Elizabeth to leave the old woman and her opinion of Gian alone. She 
said with the gentlest reproach: 

"You know, Mattie, you don't see him often. I suppose it's years 
since he came here?" 

The answer came from Daise, who, quietly suffering her mother's 
caress, said laconically: "He come here last week, wanting to see Dad. 
Only Dad was out." 

"He is a foolish man altogether!" Matilda said, stiffening into 
aggression once more. "What will it matter who will get the money for 
the house if it have to be paid, heh-heh? I say it is all his foolishness!" 

Elizabeth said: "I don't quite understand." 

"It's about the rent he pay on the house," Daise told her. "Mrs 
Jan always give it in to old Mr OUeroyd, and he pass it on to Herb 
Evans at the Old Richmond. Only most of it go to Dad, because it's a 
property he got a tally on, some way no one rightly understand. Only 
Jan don't know till that Freddie tell him — Freddie what Herb Evans 
have to put the empties in the yard and such — he got to know and he 
tell Jan over at the Apostles." 

"And what will it matter if the money go to Charlie or where it 
go!" Matilda demanded again. "Spsh, it is nothing but a foolishness!" 

"Have you talked to Charlie about this?" Elizabeth asked her. 

The old woman lay right back and turned her head to her favourite 
position, looking towards the street. That was her habit when her inter- 
est in any topic collapsed: she had spent her day's force, Elizabeth 
thought ; and the two younger women began to collect the used crockery 
that lay about, quietly, with the skill of old partnership, and to put 
the room in order for the night. But without movhig head or eyes 
Matilda started drowsily to talk again: 

"Thy desire shall be thy husband! How would little Mattie speak 
to the man the Lord gave to rule over her? For this cause shall a man 
leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. That is for ever and 
ever, Mr Llewellyn said, until the man is dead. I remember Mattie 

33^ 



Williams when she was all alone, and it was cold in the little room up 
in the roof, and then that Charlie Empire came and she found he was 
a lovely man." Her voice was getting thick with phlegm, and distant, 
as if she were all but asleep. She stirred convulsively, and her hand came 
out of the bed again and searched along the quilt. "Are you there, 
childelie? Don't be angry, Daisie bach, don't be angry with poor Mat- 
tie — what can poor Mattie do? Only the good Lord know how to punish 
the wicked and ungodly, Mattie can only do what the Lord command." 
Those words were scarcely audible, but a fit of coughing which pos- 
sessed her seemed to stir up some residue of power, and when she spoke 
again, panting, her voice was whetted to a trenchancy they had not 
heard before. "He seeketh out the evil that is in the heart of a man, 
and he will smite and destroy that wicked man and plunge him 
down into the fires of hell! Come here, Daisie bach, listen!" 

But Daise was not listening to her. She said sharply, 

"Mum!" 

And Elizabeth, without turning round, knew that Charlie Empire 
was in the room. 

For his presence was felt more quickly than that of many to whom 
the quality of 'presence' would be applied. There was a smell attached 
to him, distinct from the compound fetid odour which the room con- 
tinually inhaled from Bidault's Place; the smell of those barber's shops 
where the barber works with a Woodbine in his mouth and wipes the 
razor on sheets torn from the Winner; and you felt, upon the first en- 
counter, that this emanation spoke for the whole man, effeminate, ready- 
made, with a touch of varnish to hide the shop-soil. But his chief im- 
pression upon Elizabeth, on the rare occasions when he came home 
before she had left, was that made by poor actors when they perform 
with those of a higher class: from his own being he cast on those who 
surrounded him an awkwardness amounting to waxwork unreality. Just 
as a wretched actor does he stood, now, twisting his hat with one hand 
and rubbing his trousers with the other ; looked round the room in a be- 
wildered fashion; hurried his glance past Elizabeth, brought it slowly 
back, smiled as if into tropic sunshine and looked away again, mur- 
muring, "Take it very kind, coming here to cheer up the missis. Very 
kind of the lady, ain't it, Daise? You ought to say thank-you, you 
know, Daise. Not much of a place to come to, a place like this, not for 
a lady." 

Neither could find an answer; they stood quite still and watched 



337 



him as he went uncomfortably to the bed. He had begun to look and to 
move like an old man, and Elizabeth cursorily wondered why she felt 
no pity for his feebleness. 

"You goin' on all right, Mat?" he asked. 

"Yes, thank-you, Charlie." 

He seemed anxious to do something for her, but he was all at sea 
in the business of a sick-room. He gave a clumsy pull to the quilt, only 
making it come untucked on the other side. With embarrassment he 
stooped and kissed Matilda's cheek, mumbling, "I reckon you look 
better tonight. Mat," to which she answered: 

"Yes, Charlie, thank-you." 

"There was someone come in with you," Daise said suddenly. 

"He can wait," her father answered abruptly; "I put him in the 
front room," and he turned to Elizabeth again. "You'd like Daise here 
to get you cup of tea, m'm, she make a nice cup o' tea, don't you, 
Daise!" He came to Daise's side and put an arm round her shoulder. 
"A marvel she is, m'm, though it's me that says it. Keep this place 
as good as she can for her ma, what can't do anything herself. Don't 
she, Mat?" 

"Yes, Charlie." 

"Of course, it's not much of a place, m'm — ^not the kind of place I'd 
have the missis in if I had the ways and the means. But it's home, you 
know, m'm. We make it all the best we can, me and Daise. And home's 
a wonderful word, you know, m'm, even if it's only a poor man's house 
like we got here. That's right, ain't it, Mat?" 

"Yes, Charlie." 

"Yes, of course!" Elizabeth said. 

She was painfully preparing her formula for getting away. There 
is only one other man, she thought, re-living one of Henry's talks on 
household economy, who makes it quite so difficult for you to leave him; 
who has always something more he must say or perish and then repeats 
in slightly different words what he has said ten minutes before. 

"It's very kind of you," she said, "but I've had tea already. I must 
be getting — " 

"You see," said Charlie, "it's not so much what you got in a 
house as the feelin' in your heart what makes it a home. I often used to 
say to Mrs Empire, there, back in the old days — " 

Upon an impulse, Elizabeth broke into his eloquence: 

"Oh — Mr Empire — I do hope there's not going to be any trouble 

338 



about Gian Ardree and the house he rents from you. The Ardrees are 
old friends of mine, you know, and I heard — " 

The question upset his balance only for a moment. A smile he kept 
in reserve came into position like the name of a station on a railway 
indicator. "Ardree?" he said. "That place of his along in Weald Street, 
you mean? — nice little house, that is, been looked after nice — that's 
no place of mine, you know, m'm, that's no business for a poor man, 
house-ownin' an' house-rentin'. No, I just take the money, now and 
again, to give it on to the old lady what own the house — that's just to 
oblige Herb Evans as does the coUectin'." 

"Oh, I thought—" 

"Ardree, now," he pursued, "he's an old friend of my own, as you 
might say. Come to my Sunday classes when he was a nipper, young 
Ardree did. Got a job for him later on — I like to help a young chap the 
best I can, particular if it's a young chap that has a way of gettin' into 
trouble. That's right, ain't it. Mat?" 

"Yes, Charlie." 

"An' he always were a good enough lad at heart, that Ardree, 
weren't he. Mat?" 

"Yes, Charlie." 

"I'm glad you feel like that," Elizabeth said shortly. She had got 
into her coat, she went swiftly to the bed and kissed Matilda on the 
forehead; uselessly, for the old woman made no more response than a 
corpse would. "I can find my own way out! " she said, embracing Daise, 
and in a moment she was out of the room. 

The door which she had shut behind her was re-opened before she 
reached the top of the stairs, and through the squeak of its hinges she 
faintly heard Matilda's voice again; but the words which came dis- 
tinctly were in a voice of Daise's, different in timbre from the one she 
knew: "I tell you it don't matter, Mum, it don't do me no harm." The 
door shut once more; she paused for an instant, feeling that something 
was wrong and she ought to return; and found that Charlie was at her 
heels. 

She had, just then, that very feeling of helplessness which had 
possessed another woman in this house some thirteen years before. 
Hitherto Bidault's Place had never scared her; she had travelled too 
variously to be scared by the insubstantial part of things. She was 
frightened now. "I got to say thank-you — " Charlie was breathing in 

339 



her ear, nervously, confidentially, a little short of wind — "it do the 
missis a power of good, having a lady come to see her — it's hard for 
a man like me, you know, m'm, havin' his old sweetheart lyin' there 
and seein' her suffer . . ." while she, as in a liverish dream trying to 
say "Stop! Get back!" longing to run, went on down the stairs in silent 
dignity; and would have passed thus into the street, but the door of 
the front room was open, and a fungous, scale-eyed man came forward 
with a drizzling nose and half-cocked smile to wish her good-evening. 
Charlie was between them in a moment, saying "Half a jiff, matey, 
and I'll get your parcel for y'!" And moving so as to keep the other 
visitor screened he opened the street door and stood there ceremoni- 
ously to show her out; ageing, pathetically small, begging her with his 
eyes to forgive his poverty, his lack of any means to please; while she, 
with her chilled and fluttered mind repeating that last queer cry from 
Daise, could find no smile to answer his courtesy. 

"I tell you it don't matter," the voice inhumanly flat, a dead 
voice, the voice of one too long defeated to have even the will to resist, 
"it don't do me no harm": the man with eyes like newly broken blisters, 
sweating at the neck, a drenched cigarette dangling from the loop of 
his sheepish grin: in this suppuration of men's infamy the years' evil 
and the gathered wretchedness of a day sultry with defeat broke upon 
her with a violence too swift for her seasoned defence. 

She was not a novice in experience. Reared where pennies counted, 
broken to harness in the shifts and turbulence of board-school teaching, 
she had been in villages which Bulgarian troops had left the day before, 
had seen men still alive with their bodies turned inside-out, moved with 
open eyes and quick ears among the pimps plying their trade in the 
souks of the Levant. Yet this experience had caught her out. From 
Matilda's evasions she had long guessed the nature of Empire's spare- 
time occupation, had even suspected that in the past those activities 
had not been kept entirely outside his home ; but no word from mother 
or daughter had ever prepared her for what she had just heard and 
seen. You suppose, she thought, stumbling, wanting to be sick, that 
there is nothing left to learn ; that when you have watched to repletion 
the extremes of agony and filth no new and smaller twist can make you 
wince: yet no glimpse of wretchedness has ever frozen me as this has. 

No (as the stagnant airs of Bidault's Place received her, familiar 
without friendship, chilled with fog, the last of the honourable work- 



340 



shop smells drowned in the stench of soiled clothes drying and food 
gone bad), this horror at another's misery does nothing to depreciate 
my own, it only turns me back upon myself. I try to escape from the 
drag of sympathy by saying this evil belongs to a world different from 
mine, which I can leave behind as I have left the water-front of Scutari; 
that a cruelty so mean as this can spring only from starved and blighted 
soil, that those whom it stings are so different from me in sensibility 
that they can scarcely feel it or be sickened by its stench. But these are 
my friends, sharing at least some part of their lives with me, bound to 
me by at least some ties of affection and understanding; and when I 
look at this needless wretchedness, this barbed embroidery which men 
have fastened to Adam's curse, I find my vision sharpened by my own 
distress as if both were of one shape and origin. What I suffer on my 
own account may, then, be only an aspect of universal suffering; but 
this neither diminishes nor dignifies the pain, rather it shows it to be at. 
once contemptible and ugly, like a spreading disease of the skin. I can 
try to detach myself (as a stercoral draught assaulted her through the 
archway, as the sleepless commotion of Coronation Building, the rau- 
cous arguments, the ribaldry and wails of children pursued her down 
Mickett Lane), to say that my part is only a passive one, that the 
greed and blindness belong elsewhere; but when I look back to that 
shabby room in Cromwell Road — mauve walls and yellow eider-down, 
drawers that stick and cupboards which fly open — I catch sight of 
appetites the same in kind as those of the creature I saw just now. I 
peer inside the place which is secret from all others, as far and steadily 
as I can; and then I see that the greed was mine as well as his, that I 
lost all thought about injuring ethers in my headlong rush to appease it, 
that I should sacrifice the interest of others as recklessly again. I suffer 
because I have preferred to suffer; not as the martyrs do, but because 
it was the easier course to follow, the way of my kind: to yield with- 
out love, dodge the farther issue, cover with nimble deceits, live for the 
occasional delight. Yes, I belong to the rest, for essentially my pas- 
sions are the same as theirs: the small, unshaven men who sell things 
in dark corners, the blowsy astrologers and cheap- Jack mediums of 
Camden Town, promoters of grandiose and shady companies, old, 
rouged women with Living-Art and Joy-in-Punishment saloons in the 
shuttered basements of Ismir. Darkness, nowhere anything but dark- 
ness and niggling desires. In faces at Sagrestano's and among the loung- 
ers in Bidault's Place I see a selfishness so absorbing that it blinds the 



341 



heart alike to others' good and to its own; and when I have peeled off 
the last pretensions hiding the real creature within me I find a selfish- 
ness as hard and tawdry as any which revolts me in them. 

The physical warmth she had brought from Matilda's gas-fire was 
exhausted, the damp wind coursing the street seemed to run unhindered 
inside her veins. She was walking unsteadily and in a pool of deafness, 
so that nearer sounds were stilled, while the farther noise of traffic in 
the main road, the clangour of trains across the viaduct, came with a 
strange distinctness to overscore the voices whispering inside her head. 
Her intention had been to call a taxi at the end of the street and go 
straight home; but she realized now that she might collapse before get- 
ting so far — it had happened before — and that would mean being 
caught in a tangle of kindness and fuss. From Trevon's window a light 
showed through the blue curtain she had long ago put up for him. She 
went inside the house, rested for a while in the passage, then brought 
her powers under command and pulled herself upstairs. 

And Michael, she thought, as she slipped unobtrusively into the 
little chair beside Trevon's fire, would Michael, fruit of such transient 
passion, be like that too? Could she pretend to him, when he knew her 
story and saw it as an outsider would, that men were born to splendour 
and that evil was only an occasional mischance? There must come a 
time — it might come soon — when her influence over him would be fin- 
ished. It was still not easy to think of Michael as a distinct and self- 
sufficient being, the centre of a cosmos in w^hich she was a satellite less 
individual and less real than himself. But that was the fact she must 
accept; and in this hour of utter self-distrust she told herself it was 
better he should make his voyage alone. If there is any Good, she 
thought, he may chance to find it without help; or if he is to be guided, 
the guide must be one whose map is not obscured by corrections, creases 
and stains. Hitherto I thought it was only by mischance that from the 
seed of my friendships nothing grew which could stand against the sea- 
sons. Now I see distinctly that the genesis of failure was the corruption 
within myself, and if all my devotion flows towards Michael it will only 
stunt and wither him . . . Yet in this high fever of loneliness she knew 
she was merely a human being who would follow her primary instincts 
as abjectly as the rest. Michael was hers, never more hers than now, 
to guard and to live for. Beside that furnace of the heart the coiled 
filament of reason, charged to its highest incandescence, gave too little 
light to show. 



342 



"If you don't mind my mentionin' it/' the man in the check cap 
said, "that do happen to be a diamond, the one Bulky jus' put down." 

His partner winked. "Now don't you go interferin' with Slimey. 
Spoil his concentrationt." 

"Oh, he's concentratin'? I thought it was somethink in his stomach, 
that gurglin' noise." 

"Now don't you be nasty-minded — that's just his diallin' tone. 
Never mind, Slimey boy, you'll be dead some day. Put somethin' down 
— diamond if you've got it. Them square things with the square gone a 
bit arsy-tarsy, them's diamonds." 

"It might be nice to get just one game finished before breakfast," 
Trevon said. "Fill up Slimey's glass, somebody." 

"You havin' a drink, Mrs Kin?" 

"Tea when the kettle boils," she answered, and the game went on. 

They had taken scarcely any notice of her before: only Gian, who 
was puzzling over some text-book, had greeted her in his own fashion, 
with warmth and embarrassment in duel, and had put the kettle on to 
make her tea. And where else, she wondered, did good manners assume 
so grateful a form? It was Trevon, of course — they took their cue in- 
stinctively from him. More and more he seemed to control these people, 
without intention, as the fall of light controls the slope of flowers grown 
indoors. They caught his attitudes because of the difference between 
themselves and him, which they always remembered and which he 
seemed to have forgotten. 

Yes, he belongs to them, she thought; covertly watching how his 
smile flickered and changed, warm for Slimey, mischievous as he caught 
the eye of Nibbley Toms; and as he gets older he is moving further 
away from me. The dangerous illness of eleven years before had re- 
duced him physically, making the nickname 'Bulky Grist' a little 
absurd, and since then the settling process had continued, his frame 
tightening, the sparer lines of his face becoming permanent, so that his 
body appeared smaller than when she had first known him. But in per- 
sonality he had increased. The twitches, the fits of sharp temper, had 
not quite disappeared; a watchful eye could see still the signs of an 
uncertain, even a timorous man; but he seemed to have measured his 
nervous weakness and got it under control, stowed where he could nor- 
mally forget it. Here, with men he had known from their boyhood, he 
was as sure and tranquil as those who are born to live untroubled lives 
in gracious country houses; he rode their chatter as a Brixham trawler 



343 



rides in crumpled seas, fashioned to sway and slide into the troughs 
but to hold a steady course. 

"You're too bloody conservative, Frank. You never want to see 
anything changed. Why can't Slimey call it a heart if he wants to!" 

The man in the check cap, spitting tidily into sleeve, said "Con- 
servative? I'll tell you what I'd do with Conservatives — friends of 
yourn or not, Bulky — I'd stand 'em in one long row over on Tower 
Bridge there an' jack up the bascles. I mean that." 

"Foul the works," Toms said disapprovingly. 

Slimey pinched out his cigarette and parked it. "I reckon they 
got as much right to their opinion as you have to yours, Mr 'Ughes." 

"Yes — an' what have their opinions done for blokes like you an' 
me? Keep the standard of livin' down to bedrock, then you get easy 
labour — any mug can see that. (No, ta. Bulky, I'll have one of my 
own.) Well, then, all they got to do is to run the laws accordin'. Send 
their lads to Eton an' such, work 'em into Parliament an' they got the 
thing rigged, world without end amen. Course, the workin'-man get wise 
to it now an' again — then it's time for the rulin' class to turn round an' 
say 'See here, lads, we got a war comin' on, all got to pull on the same 
rope for home an' country!' That's what's goin' on now — see it in the 
papers if you've got eyes in your head." 

Spruce in his Burton suit, alert, faintly pere-de-famille and mani- 
festly a soft-goods man, Nibbley Toms eyed him with admiration. 
"Only four words left out, Frankie. Come in Chapter Five." 

"You don't think there's any hope of re-educating the ruling 
class?" Trevon asked. 

"Re-educate 'em with a noose!" 

"Slimey here'll get it fixed up for you," Toms suggested. "Might 
try it out on Bulky." 

Trevon nodded. "Suits me, so long as it's Slimey's job. Remember 
that rope in the gym, Slimey?" 

"You won't mind my mentionin', Mr Grist, but that what you're 
puttin' down now ain't a diamond neither — not judgin' by what young 
Toms here was tellin' me." 

"Blast!" 

"Seems perhaps some bloke ought to start re-educatin' the rulin' 
class . . ." 

The noise of the sleepless streets was audible even here, the floor 
shook a little as the trains passed. But the room, tight with smoke and 



344 



fug, felt like the cabin of a small ship, a world alone in space. Nothing 
here was ever changed round: the cross-country vase on the gimcrack 
mantelpiece, the Minty chair, Everymans and Florentine prints had 
grown into the room as clothes appear to grow on those who dress for 
comfort; and as she sat with eyes half-closed, feeling the fire's warmth 
on her legs, hearing the continuous pat-ball of easy, familiar voices and 
the undertow of laughter, it seemed that these same men had never 
moved from their places about the table, that they had only grown 
older, fading into a new gentleness as the pattern on the wall faded. 

''You feelin' all right, Elizabeth m'm?" 

"Yes, thank-you, Gian, it's lovely here. I was just a bit giddy — 
it's cold outside. You've been at Apostles' Court? I want to come along 
soon and see how the garden's getting on. I suppose there isn't much 
you can do to it at this time of the year?" 

"Well, we can get on with diggin' the pond, you know. I got some 
of Mr Grist's boys come and help me with the diggin' — rubble an' muck 
we got to get out, you see — an' then the kids help carryin' the stuff 
away; over on the corner — you know where I mean. I got a notion to 
have a sort of a rock garden over that corner. Look all right, you know, 
same as you might have in a private place." 

"And the pond, is it going to be just ornamental, or will they be 
able to bathe in it?" 

"Well, a paddlin' pond, you might say, that's what I got in mind. 
You wouldn't get it deep enough for bathin'. You get them kids pad- 
dlin' — in the summer, see what I mean — they'll like that all right. Get 
the bottom concreted over, so they don't muck their feet too much. Get 
a bit of cement off the firm, you know — Mr Belson won't charge it up 
too high, seein' I tell him what it's for." 

The shyness which returned each time they met was thawing as 
he spoke. When he talked of Apostles' Court he grew in age and stat- 
ure, speaking of landlords and borough surveyors as if they were men 
of his own kind, laying down the law even to Trevon about the need 
for new furniture and alterations in the rules. His Italian side showed 
more strongly then, often he became voluble and declamatory, free 
with gesture, and the fire of enthusiasm seemed to alter even his appear- 
ance, giving you glimpses of those lupine Tuscan farmers who will flash 
into oratory at railway-carriage windows. He would stand feet astride, 
thumbs in armpits, seeing over your shoulder every detail of the gar- 
den-playground he meant to create on the Pan and describing it almost 



345 



with passion; and if you spoke critically of some boy who came to the 
court he would instantly contradict you: no, Steve was not really deceit- 
ful, he just didn't trust strangers, that was the way his dad had learned 
him, and he never cheated for his own benefit: as if he alone had the 
right to speak of those children or the intelligence to understand them. 

"... tell me it'll get all mucky and start up the flies an' that. Cuh! 
*Think I never done no plumbin'!' I says. 'What happen to the dirty 
water out of your bath at home?' I says." 

Nibbley said over his shoulder: "There go ole Toughie at it again! 
You ain't heard, Frankie — Toughie there's settin' up a new Hyde Park 
over Three Tuns. Hyde Park an' Wembley done up in one. Got a bit o' 
waste off the borough an' fittin' it up a masterpiece, gravel path right 
down the middle, Try-Your-Weight machine an' half a dozen ruddy 
dafferdills. Make the little baskets think they got the whole of Eppin' 
Forest come clusterin' round them." 

"H-h- make 'em forget they ain't got nothing to put in their bel- 
lies!" Hughes said. 

Slimey sighed. "Now you gone an' set him off again!" 

Gian, with his eyes resting on Elizabeth's face, seemed to hear 
nothing. She said: 

"It must take up a terrible lot of your spare time. Do you go to 
the court every evening now?" 

At first he did not seem to hear that either. But in a few mo- 
ments, returning from a far journey, he answered, "Well, no, I don't 
get round the same as I did. Fidge do it mostly — ^him an' Snitch between 
'em. I give 'em a notion the way it got to go an' they put in the time, 
see." His eyes were just avoiding hers. "Susie put me on this course, see. 
Town Plannin'. Twelve lectures, that is, over at the London College, 
an' they give you studyin' to fill in — this here, that's one of 'em — it all 
come in with the course." 

"That must be interesting." 

Again a moment or two of hesitation. He was a different man now, 
and in spite of the settled look which the last few years had given 
him, the responsibility upon his brow, the dark suit worn naturally, 
the silver watch-chain, she saw for an instant the callow youth who 
had shaken her hand so stiffly in Raymond's garden. (And that, she 
thought as the glimpse passed, is reality: the rest an accident, mere 
overlay.) He said: 

"Well, you see how it is, a lot of buildin's on paper, recreation 

346 



halls an' all the rest. What might be for a lot o' blokes you never seen — 
it don't seem to signify. Might be a lot of folk who's fixed up all right 
where they are — same as you might be yourself, see — only want to 
shift 'emselves to somewhere else because they don't fancy the way the 
milkman say good-mornin', see what I mean. It's not like thinkin' up 
a bit of a place for a bunch o' kids an' that, what you know all their 
names an' what they like and what they're scared of — kids what got no 
way to keep 'emselves from freezin', leavin' out the Covered Shoppin' 
Centre and the play-actin' circle an' that, what you get off the ole 
shiny as give out the lectures. See what I mean?" 

She did see. She knew that if he lived to be a hundred this man 
would never learn to think in the larger ambit of theory. She said 
cautiously: 

"Still, you may pick up some useful ideas — " 

And he, instantly interpreting her caution, added: 

"Well, you see the way Susie look at it. There's a sort of certificate 
they give out on you when you done the course. You put that up into 
the firm, see. You say 'What you got now is a ruddy expert. Plan your 
town for y'. Run you up a recreation centre, London College fashion, 
jus' like mother makes it.' " 

("Cor, listen to ole Toughie now!" said Toms.) 

"Might make a difference, see — leastways, that's the way Susie 
look at it. I got on a dead end, see. Mind you, I done all right reckonin' 
by what some do. Got twenty- two blokes do their work under me now — 
blokes of fifty or sixty some of 'em would be." 

("Captain of Industry!" Toms remarked. "Coppers hold up all 
the fumin' traffic to let his Rolls-Royce go down Constipation Hill.") 

"Only that ain't the same as what you might call a confidential 
job. The clerk give me over my part of the tracin's, an' the specication 
an' all, and I see the blokes under me do it all accordin'. Time schedule 
an' pay rates jus' the same. Only none of it come to me straight off the 
management, as you might say — there's always some other bloke put his 
fist on it before me. That's the difference, see. An' what Susie say, she 
say 'You can't go on all your life doin' jus' what the nex' bloke up says, 
you got to be up at the top of somethin',' she say, 'doin' somethin' out 
of your own napper. Then you get to mean somethink,' she say." 

His voice had fallen to avoid the others' ears, he was looking 
straight at her eyes, beseeching her to follow the argument however 
obscure it seemed in his words, perhaps in a shrewd sentence or two 



347 



to give it back to him so cleaned and polished that it would send a shaft 
of light into his own understanding. But this evening she could not 
do that. 

"Tell me," she said, "how is Susie? It's quite a time since I heard 
from her." 

"She's goin' on very nicely, thank-you. Of course, she's busy, you 
know the way it is." 

"Yes, it's wonderful what she gets through." 

"She do keep the house a treat. Everyone say she do." 

"She does — marvellously." 

At the table Slimey was holding the others mesmerized, and the 
room seemed to quiver with their stoppered mirth as his diffident, sor- 
rowful voice crept on: ". . . did seem to me queer, but I done jus' 
exactly what my daughter said. 'The shop at the corner. Dad,' she said, 
as plain as plain. So in I goes, an' put the tanner she give me on the 
counter, where I don't see ought but bills for house-lettin', an' I says, 
'Give me a Woman an' Beauty,' I says. Well, the bloke look at me 
rather queer, an' he says, 'As to the former,' he says — got a voice like 
a professor, this bloke had — 'as to the former,' he says, 'you do best 
go down the street there to where you see a green door, an' there you 
give four raps an' say you been sent by Mrs Maconochie. An' as to the 
latter,' he says, 'you bes' kneel down and pray God to give it y', he says, 
'because if he can't manage I don't rightly know of anyone what can.' " 
"And did you?" Trevon asked in agony, as Nibbley buried his face and 
shook like a boiling kettle. "I found the green door all right," Slimey 
said pathetically, "but they tell me they never heard of a Mrs Macono- 
chie . . ." 

"Only we been thinkin' of goin' on somewhere else." 

Gian said that abruptly, and he added at once, as if he would 
have taken the words back, "Well, that's what I got in mind." 

"I suppose the house is rather small for your needs," she said, a 
little distracted by the laughter which was foaming about the table 
behind her, the bewildered Slimey's sibilant chuckle and Hughes's 
cannonade, "when you've got those other people living with you." 

"Don't like what happens to the money," he said curtly; he was 
every year of his age now. "I didn't know, you see — hole-an '-corner 
business, Ed Hugg mixed up in it an' all. Well, I know now, an' I won't 
have my money goin' to that kind, and that's all it is." 

The finality of his voice forbade her absolutely to pursue that 

348 



topic. She said, too quickly, "Do tell me about — " and stopped. It waij, 
the boy Gordon she wanted to hear of, and she remembered only just 
in time that the honourable course for her was to listen to Armorel's 
account first. " — about Tonie," she said clumsily. "It's going to be 
her birthday before long, isn't it! You must be feeling that you've 
nearly got a grown-up daughter." 

If he did think that he didn't say so. The word 'Tonie' lit a smile 
in his face and the smile stayed on his mouth, cooling till its light was 
that of a paint-and-paper candle in a Christmas bazaar. For a moment,, 
when he spoke, it re-kindled as a wood cinder will before it finally 
goes out. "Took her along to the Apostles'," he said reflectively. "She 
enjoy that. Made quite a fuss of her, the lads did." 

"Of course they did! I expect later on she'll be helping you over 
there." 

He screwed his eyes. The cinder was dead now. "Susie don't hold 
with it," he said, and took her cup away to wash it up. 

It wanted turning out, this room: a little shawl of cobweb at the 
side of the Giorgione, ink splashes on the door which might be skil- 
fully removed with turpentine: sometime, perhaps, if she were well 
and strong, and if there were any sense in trying to alter things. Like 
the silk lamp shade, bleached and frayed now, swinging a little in the 
haze, the tapestry of voices seemed to be permanent, part of an ar- 
rested movement, a background she would see for ever enclosing Gian's 
defeated voice and eyes. "You don't know ole Slimey — terrible one for 
the skirts — caw, you never would believe!" "Ah, it's his looks, you 
know — handsome chap, Slimey is — that's what they can't resist." 
"You're dead right. Bulky — Mrs Kin, there, she'd tell you. Better 
lookin' than ole Toughie even, some do say." "Tell me he spend two 
hour every Friday in one of them beauty-parlours havin' his hairs 
permed — both of 'em." "I daresay it would do your 'air a bit o' good, 
young 'Ughes!" "You heard, I s'pose, the Borough Council's puttin'' 
him in for the beauty competition nex' week. All done up in bathin' 
drawers an' a brassery. 'Miss Elephant an' Castle' they're goin' to put 
on his tally." But reality was Henry's letter, impartial, carefully 
phrased and faultlessly typed, and not this mellow dream of pleasant- 
ness; reality was a clock ticking in a hospital waiting-room and Nurse 
Wimple's calculated voice, "The doctors can't really tell until he comes 
round"; reality was the smiling, hungry, disappointed man in Bidault's 
Place, it was her own feverish voice saying, "No, Gordon, no, I don't 



349 



mind about the risk!" Trevon, solid and at ease, throwing her a side- 
long smile or two as she shrewdly added fuel to their enjoyment, Trevon 
himself was scarcely real. And already there were signs of the borrowed 
dream dissolving, a yawn from Frankie, a piece of coal tumbling against 
the bottom of the grate. Nibbley, glancing at his watch, had already 
said, "Well, this don't earn a frock for the wife, nor yet a pair o' boots 
for the baby." 

With her body held so tightly in the hot repose which follows 
migraine her mind seemed to move as swiftly as in the moment of wak- 
ing. Curiously, with her senses absorbed in the simple pattern men 
contrive for themselves, it was Armorel's view which she saw in bril- 
liant clarity. She knew Three Tuns: a proud and happy Gian had 
shown her the glories of Apostles' Court, the makeshift workshop where 
boys with the vagrant eyes of imbecility were dribbling over fretsaws, 
the dank games-room in the basement full of children oozing with 
impetigo who yelled and tumbled and belaboured each other with 
ping-pong bats. She thought of the fairy-like Tonie in party dresses 
which her mother made so skilfully with materials from sales and ideas 
from Peter Robinson's windows; of the scramble Armorel went through 
every morning in getting her to a dame-school at Dulwich Park, to be 
given a glimpse of broader and fairer worlds than Weald Street. Could 
anyone call it unnatural, or even selfish, that such a woman should 
want to keep her child away from a stewing-pan of sailors' leavings, 
another Weald Street without even Weald Street's flimsy attempts at 
reticence! Surely it was not beyond Gian's compass to understand 
that: yet who would make him understand if not Armorel herself? He 
was beside her again; her eyes had closed but she felt his presence; and 
This is the time, she thought, in this warmth and friendship, when the 
vociferous presence of others only ensures our privacy: a word or two 
now from me, and he might grasp for always how her viewpoint must 
differ from his own. 

A sentence formed itself, "Gian dear, you know how fond I am of 
Susie — of both of you," but before it was uttered her lips and throat 
fell slack. She was tired, so tired, and heavy with the day's evil. The 
continuity of sound was breaking, a chair fell over, Nibbley was blas- 
phemously searching for his muffler. There would be danger, she thought, 
in anything I said. 

So often a tranquil relationship depended on leaving words un- 
spoken. Even between Henry and herself there had been subtleties of 



350 



understanding and forbearance, certain words which both avoided when 
speaking of Hilda Nicholedd, questions of social distinction on which 
neither would ever touch. In a dozen years of marriage a fabric of 
such tacit understandings must have been worked between Gian and 
his wife, and if any part of it were strained an outsider could no more 
repair it than a seamstress could mend a spider's web. The little hill 
she had meant to cross had become a mountain as she approached it. 
That look of Gian's, the distress in it had seemed so disproportionate 
to so small a disappointment: had he worn that look when Armorel, 
carelessly perhaps, had given her decision about Tonie and Apostles' 
Court? And had it been unobserved? She opened her eyes just far 
enough to take in his profile as he stood with his shoulders against 
the mantelshelf : he was smiling now over some taunt which Trevon had 
chucked at him, he was part of the circle again. The crease in his 
temple was always there, she thought, belonging to no special anxiety. 
He was surely a man of gentle spirit, despite the roughness in build 
and features which sometimes made her think of Barbary corsairs; and 
if that knuckly hand of his was twitching a little it was only because so 
powerful and skilled a hand detested to be out of use. 

"Well, get me own back next time. Bulky!" 

"You will if you keep sober." 

"Been very nice, I'm sure, Mr Grist. Quite a treat." 

"Off to Mount Everest, Nibbley? Jus' thought you might be, with 
that thing round your neck." 

"Pinched your lid? Whadu think I could do with your perishin' 
lid? Grow tomaters in it?" 

"S'long, Bulky!" 

" 'Night, Mr Grist! Ta! 'Night, Toughie!" 

" 'Night, Bulky! Goo'-night, Mrs Kin!" 

"Good-night, Frankie!" 

She stood up, gripping the back of the chair and waiting for the 
giddiness to pass. "I must be off too," she said to Trevon, "I only 
meant to sit down for five minutes — the fog had got into my legs." 

He answered over his shoulder, kneeling to revive the fire: "You're 
not moving from this room till there's a cab ready for you. Gian, you 
can nobble a cab on your way home and send it along here?" 

"Yep." 

He was in his coat, but he always contrived to leave a little later 
than the others and he stayed perched on the arm of the Minty, smiling 

351 



remotely, till the sounds of Slimey falling half-way down the stairs, 
of scuffle and cheerful oaths and ribaldry, were broken off by the crash 
of the street door. (Yes, in a way he was older, he belonged to a cate- 
gory quite different from theirs, this knurred stub of a man with his 
paradoxical respectability, aloof, parentally fingering his watch-chain.) 

"You been over in Biddle's Place?" he asked her casually. 

"Yes, I looked in on Matilda. She was much better — full of talk." 

"Daise there?" 

"Yes." 

Trevon, feet astride on the kerb, swinging the poker and enclos- 
ing them both in his mellow sunshine, said: "Best thing Susie ever did 
— or second-best, I should say — getting hold of that young woman 
to help her out. You can't beat Daise on housework. Look at the way 
she keeps her own home. When you think that Matilda can't help and 
Empire's living habits are half a length more grossly untidy than mine 
even — !" 

"I've improved you a bit," Elizabeth said: she did not want to 
talk about Charlie Empire. 

"Charlie come in?" Gian asked. 

"What? Charlie? — yes, he was back just before I left. He was 
earlier than usual, I don't often see him." 

"Anyone with him?" 

"I think there was some man — " She checked herself too late to 
recover those words: her intuition had sounded the alarm too slug- 
gishly: "I think it was the man to read the meter or something," she 
said confusedly. "I don't think it was a friend or anything. The Empires 
haven't many friends, have they, it's not a neighbourly sort of street, 
it's quite different from this one." 

Gian nodded. "Yes, it's different," he said. 

Trevon glanced at his face sharply. "Every street's different from 
the next!" he said as if trying to cover someone's faux pas; and in an 
instant his hands were on Gian's shoulders. "Why don't you sit down 
properly, for God's sake! There's no hurry — Susie'll know you're here.'* 
He was pleading with a curious urgency; Elizabeth had seldom seen 
such gentleness so forcibly exerted. "Stay and help me amuse this aw- 
ful Ritzy woman — you know, she only comes here in the hope of seeing 
you." 

"I bes' be gettin' on," Gian answered dourly. "Susie don't like it, 
me comin' in late." 



352 



Trevon stood back. "Yes, well, Susie's word is law, I suppose. But 
wait!" With his bottom against the edge of the table he looked into 
the reviving fire as if some message he had forgotten could be read 
there. "Listen, Gian, old thing, I'm not sure if you realize, this room's 
yours just when you want it. You don't have to ask or knock on the 
door or anything — " 

"—Well, that's very kind—" 

" — I mean, you may want it at any time. You may feel like talk- 
ing to someone — it's much better to talk to someone than go on think- 
ing and thinking over things, if you see what I mean. Even if there's 
only me here to talk to. And Elizabeth here, she's worth talking to, 
and I could always get her along." He smiled, still gazing at the fire, 
but he was perfectly serious. He stretched out and held Elizabeth's 
wrist. "She's a hell of a wise woman, you know. She knows all about 
her own sex and all about ours. And she happens to be bloody nice and 
she happens to like you just as much as I do." 

Obviously Gian could not answer that: indeed, he was still in the 
almost cataleptic state to which the news of Empire's visitor had re- 
duced him. He only mumbled something without meeting Trevon's 
eyes at all. But as he went to the door he did glance up at Elizabeth, 
with that same look (she thought) which he had given her on their first 
meeting in this room more than ten years before, a look which recalled 
to her the faces of young prisoners on the Salonika quay; and then, as 
if the invitation had come from her own lips, that anxious glance 
changed to a fleeting and shamefaced smile in which she saw with 
emotion a tormented gratitude. "I'll send a taxi round," he said, and 
fell into the little swagger he had kept from boyhood, nodding to 
Trevon in the Borough Road style and shutting the door with a jerk 
behind him. 

"Yes, it's the one reason why I don't like him coming here. It 
slightly increases the chances of his meeting Charlie Empire in the 
street." 

"Would that matter?" 

"Yes. I think it's very likely that he'd knock him down. Good 
and hard and no nonsense about Queensberry rules. It's an act I should 
like to witness but there would be consequences. No, seriously, I think 
it might happen. He's been waiting to do it for twelve years or more." 

"But he never has." 



353 



"I know — the moral restraints have just operated. But when a 
fellow's in a mood of despair the moral restraints do not operate. As I 
happen to know." 

"And me. But is he in a mood of despair? What about?" 

"Young Gordon, chiefly." 

"What actually has happened?" 

"Well, you know the child was quite out of hand — you must have 
seen that for yourself. Susie applied all her intelligence to the problem, 
but it didn't work. Something lacking in her make-up, you see — call 
it intuition. Dealing with that sort of child it's intuition that counts 
most. At least, I think so. I think Gian might have handled him if he'd 
been left to it, but — well, he wasn't. Susie meant him to be the strong 
element, the classic paterfamilias with a Lord Chesterfield voice and a 
horsewhip handy just in case — of course she wouldn't have put it quite 
like that. Well, Gian just somehow didn't see himself in the part. He's 
too simple to have any ideas about children except loving them — 
that's why I let him run Apostles' Court. So there you are. I suppose 
they both realized the business wasn't turning out right, but I don't 
suppose either of them thought it was his fault. Only humans, like us." 

"Yes." 

"So without saying one word to Gian she got a hundred quid off 
a cousin of hers — you know, that sub-Edwardian dummy who put on 
the wedding — and took the kid to a fashionable psychiatrist called 
Liedke-Urban — you've probably heard of him. About as much a psy- 
chiatrist as I am: a good, old-fashioned nineteenth-century moralist 
with some sort of a medical degree from the University of Leadville, 
Colorado, or God-knows-where and a bucketful of polysyllables picked 
up in a hasty misreading of Freud. Very charming, very impressive, 
absolutely honest, and a bigger bloody menace to society than all the 
confidence men within a two-mile radius of Marble Arch. You know, 
I'm not being nasty about Susie. After all, I've been in love with her, 
and that counts for something, beheve it or not. But she is just that 
type of woman who flies to impressive quacks as surely and certainly 
as the cuckoo flies to the Cape." 

"And this man said that Gordon was to be sent away?" 

"In about nine hundred words of portentous jargon that's what 
he did say. And perhaps quite correctly. Only of course quacks deal with 
quacks, and the place he chose for young Gordon is run by a lunatic. 
Fundamentally one of the suaviter-in-modo-jortiter-in-re boys, only the 



354 



jortiter is what is most apparent. Keeps the children segregated like 
convicts — parental visits absolutely barred and they're not even allowed 
to write home. Lectures them about the Self, the Development of the 
Rational Psyche, the Corporate Ethic and all the rest of the hocus- 
pocus till they wonder whether they're human creatures or something 
nasty at the bottom of a test-tube. Tells them all about the criminal 
strains in the stocks they come from and explains to them very kindly 
that they can't help being embryo criminals only they've damned well 
got not to be or God help them. No, he wouldn't say that, he'd say 
'Liedke-Urban help them!' A friend of mine who was a very con- 
scientious atheist was on the staff there. Got such a chill on the intelli- 
gence that he had to leave after four months — he found the place was 
undermining his disbelief in God." 

*'But Gian can't possibly realize all that!" 

"All Gian knows is that his child has been taken away and shut 
up. And that situation he does not like and twenty thousand sensible 
Susies never will persuade him to like it. Because, for one thing, he's 
had a taste of being taken away and shut up himself." 

She said very slowly — her eyes were shut: "I suppose we ought 
never to have let her come anywhere near him. You remember — at the 
Old Brompton Hospital? You made the suggestion and I backed it." 

"I sometimes wonder," he thought aloud, "if it really could have 
been prevented." 

"No," she answered wearily, "I suppose it couldn't. She'd made 
up her mind. Or something had made it up. We merely consented to be 
her instrument." 

Those words provoked him in a way she had not expected He said 
almost fiercely: "I don't believe that! That only leads to a hopeless 
fatalism. It would mean that we are creatures without any independent 
moral resource." 

"Exactly." 

"Bunkum!" he snapped. "That's the most cowardly and blasphe- 
mous falsehood, Elizabeth, and you damn well know it!'' 

This was the Trevon she had known first of all, and at other times 
she had welcomed such roughness as hei patent to the friendship he 
normally reserved for men. But tonight she had no resilience for meet- 
ing so sudden an attack. She had imagined that the hour of helpless 
weakness was over, that with her nerves under control again she had 
been talking as calmly as on any other evening. That one brusque 



355 



sentence knocked away the makeshift shores. She did not openly cry, 
but her head fell down onto her arms. She whispered: 

"Well, that's how it looks to me." 

In all their long friendship they had hardly ever touched each 
other except by chance; and it was curious (she afterwards thought) 
that she felt no surprise at what he did then: no shock and no excite- 
ment, only a grateful acquiescence. It was done very quietly. She felt 
his hands in her armpits, felt herself lifted as if she weighed nothing. 
In one effortless movement he sat himself in the wicker chair and took 
her on his knees exactly as a father would take his child, making with 
his arm against the wall a hoop on which her neck could lean in per- 
fect comfort. Like that he let her rest, himself as still as if he were 
part of the chair they sat in. She had not opened her eyes, and though 
she stayed conscious, aware of the room she was in and of shaped 
thoughts calmly flowing, her senses were almost asleep. 

The day's pain and despair had not gone: but in this unimagined 
repose, in the brown and crimson darkness, they seemed to lie in 
separate formes secure and quiescent as her body was; and as the 
weight of her body was borne by another's so her heaviness of spirit 
was supported upon his silence. She thought even then. It has altered, 
the loneliness is over, beneath the confusion there is safety. His voice 
when it came, so close that it seemed to reach her ears from within like 
the mind's voice, made no ripple upon her tranquillity. 

"I hate your being so ill." 

She answered a little afterwards: "Only in my mind." 

"Just today?" 

"I don't know." The restfulness continued, it was effortless to 
whisper so that he could hear. "It was silly. It was seeing that man that 
Empire brought in. If there's got to be cruelty, why must it strike at a 
creature like Daise, with everything else she's got to put up with! I've 
always known about these things. Only they've never got inside me the 
way this has." 

"No. They don't until you're opened up by suffering someone 
else's cruelty." And after a time he said: "Has he done something 
particular?" 

"He?" 

"Henry." 

"No. Well, he's going to divorce me. He's written about it." 

"Because of Gordon Aquillard — all that time ago?" 

356 



''You know about that?" 

"Well, I always guessed, you know." His voice was so quiet it was 
hardly more than breathing shaped into words. "Of course I've seen 
Michael sometimes." 

"I don't know what he'll do about Michael." 

"Poor Elizabeth!" he said. "Poor Elizabethl" 

Presently he asked: "Is he going to marry that woman who's al- 
ways at your flat — Hilda someone?" 

"I suppose so." 

"And you — what will you do?" 

"Look after Michael — if I'm allowed to." 

"But if not?" 

"Live by myself. Take some sort of job." 

*'Not marry again?" 

"No." 

He stirred for the first time, bringing his free hand round to hers, 
which he held for a moment and then let lie in his open palm as an 
amateur of gems would with a ruby. He said slowly: 

"If you change about that, if ever you do decide to marry some- 
one, I'd like to know beforehand. Do you think you could tell me?" 

"Of course. Only I won't change." 

The silences were rhythmic, his voice returning and returning was 
like the expected sound of small waves tumbling upon shingle. 

"You know about my disease? What it is, I mean." 

"I think so." 

"If it wasn't for that — " the voice was strained and painful now — 
"I just want you to know — if it wasn't for that I wouldn't let you be 
alone. I mean, I'd try to persuade you to be my wife." 

The silence now belonged to her, the next small wave was hers. 

"It wouldn't matter to me, your illness." 

"It would kill you," he said undramatically. "It's killing me — 
slowly and rather painfully. You would be just the same." 

"That wouldn't matter." 

When he spoke again his voice seemed less real; not false, but 
an instrument played with difficulty by one who found it too clumsy 
for his need. 

"That man you saw at Empire's. I don't know what he was like. 
but that was me. No, not really as contemptible as me. Lm not making 
anything up, I'm telling you this because I've got to. In my case it 

357 



wasn't just buying something that was there for sale anyway — not to 
begin with. I was — in a special position. I can't quite tell you every- 
thing, it won't come out. These young things, you see — they were 
children, really — they came to me in trust. They came for — well, call 
it 'advice'. I was very good, you see, very wise, very understanding, 
they could tell me everything. They did, in fact. Well, those were the 
ones I started with. I could show you what the Sunday papers said 
about it, only I don't want you to go through more ugliness than you 
can stand. Well, when I came out of prison that kind of thing wasn't 
available. I had to go into the ordinary market. And when you get to 
the stage I was in then you require more and more exciting forms of 
satisfaction, and the bill mounts up. I don't mean the money bill, I 
mean the bill in cruelty — the recklessness with which you degrade hu- 
man beings and the depths you force them down to. That was still 
going on after you first knew me. Right up to the time when I was in 
hospital. I still want it — sometimes. Only I haven't let it happen for a 
few years . . . Does that give you any idea of what I was like and 
what I made people suffer?" 

"Yes, it does." 

She could feel in his breathing what his words had cost and the 
effort he must make to speak again; as if a horse had fallen near the 
crest of a steep hill and was struggling to get on its feet. But she could 
only wait; her own voice would not work at all. 

"I — I'm sorry to have given you all that. You've got enough on you 
without it. Only you see, I've always felt that our friendship was de- 
pending on a falsehood, your not knowing in the least what kind of 
person I am. That's spoilt it for me, I couldn't let it go on, however 
much I wanted to." 

His voice petered away and she thought he would not recover it; 
but in a moment or two it came a little more calmly, as if a wider 
passage had been bored through the dam of his emotion. 

"It's got to finish now, I knew that somehow as soon as you came in 
tonight. That's why I've told you — it's because I don't want you to 
come here any more. You've got to break away before you get hurt — 
more than I've hurt you now." 

It was slipping a little, the calm voice; the stresses were falling 
wrongly. Like the corporal's at Monastir, she thought, the one who 
made jokes about incontinence when most of his stomach had been 
shot away. 

3S8 



''Of course if I was the heroic sort of person I wouldn't have told 
you. I'd have quietly faded out somehow, as they do in books. Well, 
I'm not like that. The fact is — well, you know, I suppose — you're the 
dearest thing on earth to me, you're practically the only good and the 
only reality in my life, and I'm making you go away — well, for the 
sake of your body and soul. It's the one unselfish decision I've made 
and I've spoilt that too by letting you know. It's a pity I can't do 
anything in the right way, but there it is." 

When the stream of physical sensations flowed in again she found 
she was alone in the chair, while he sat on the floor near her feet. The 
loss of his body's comfort did not matter; even his presence in the 
room was hardly necessary now. In these moments, this miniature 
eternity, she had to bear his misery as well as her own; but the sense 
of liberation on which she was lifted, comparable with that of a man 
long and austerely chaste when first a wotnan shows him the whole 
of her body, carried even that load as well. You are freed from the 
narrow cell you live in only when another breaks open to receive you. 
Once before she had seemed to achieve that escape, but the skin of the 
other's selfishness had grown immediately to cover the opening. The 
barrier which this racked and stumbling voice had torn away would 
not close up again. 

It is like hearing a shout, she thought, when you have been lost 
all night in pathless moorland. It is like the finding of another being 
by one who thought he was alone in animate creation. It is the stillness 
and serenity in which creation began. 

The exaltation had no voice of its own. Only, melting the tissue 
of safeguards which divided the voice from the heart, it let her lesser 
thoughts pass into speech as easily as they flow in the channel of 
silence. At rest, she listened to this murmuring voice from her own 
lips as she would see her face in a mirror. 

"Yes, it's better to know everything. All this time I've thought 
of ugliness and cruelty as something accidental, a few things growing 
out of the proper shape, like trees you sometimes see. Like Daise's 
head. That's how I thought about you, I thought you were all kindness 
with only little ugly growths." 

His face and hands were grey-white. He did not stir, he appeared 
not even to breathe. Her voice went on: 

"And I thought I was like that as well. Kindness with only ugly 

359 



growths. I'm glad I've realized at last that it's always been the other 
way round." 

He said — she just caught his words: ''Not in you, no. There 
couldn't be ugliness in you." 

"I think I'm glad because there isn't any difference. You'll let me 
have just that, won't you — you must let me have just that." 

He said: "My mind won't tell me that." 

"Tonight it seemed so hopeless, when I found there wasn't any- 
thing in myself to make up for other people's cruelty. It's hopeless 
now. But it's better with someone else, someone who knows it all as 
I do." 

"Hopeless?" 

"So much pain, and one relieves so little of it, so little it can't 
make any difference. You think that at least you're making some differ- 
ence within yourself, building up some kind of value. Then you find 
you've made no change, there's nothing inside except the ugliness you 
see everywhere else. You don't get anywhere, it's a blind alley." 

He moved then, putting his forehead against her knee. He whis- 
pered: 

"That's when hope begins. Not till then." 

"Begins?" 

"Only when you're finished, when you've exhausted yourself. Be- 
fore that you're only kicking against the pricks." 

"I don't understand," she said; and watching the physical signs 
of his struggle for self-expression, the tautened zygoma, the hand 
crumbling imaginary bread, she remembered a sentence which some- 
one had spoken in her hearing years before, 'They're not, men are not 
simple; it's an idea we have which makes men suffer and we suffer in 
our turn.' She heard him say in the voice of one strugghng to resist the 
effect of morphia, to be natural and clear: 

"You remember that day we went to the Tate together, the day I 
behaved so badly? I'd meant it to be quite different — I thought it was 
our last meeting. You didn't know, of course — I was going to destroy 
myself that night. Under a train, the way young Sippin did, it seemed 
so fearfully easy. Only I hadn't that amount of guts, I spent half an 
hour on the platform and it didn't come off." 

She said faintly: "Oh, Trevon— " 

"And then I sort of broke down and started praying, if that's 
the word for it. It was not in the least like any praying I'd done before, 

360 



it was merely hopelessness and rage. I said: 'There's nothing I can do 
with my filthy life, and you won't let me chuck it away, so it's up to 
you. You can do what you like.' No, I suppose you'd hardly call that 
praying." 

"Did it make any difference?" 

"You mean, did it make me any different? No, to all intents and 
purposes I was just the same, I went on as usual, the Club and all 
that, making crazy blunders and losing my temper and cursing every- 
one. I found I could do without girls, but perhaps that was coming 
anyhow. I didn't become what they call 'a better man', you can't make 
a healthy limb out of one that's gangrenous all through. No, there 
wasn't any difference, there isn't any now, except in what I feel." 

"You mean?" 

"I think it's what a soldier may experience when he's half smashed- 
up and past being frightened, when he knows there's no more chance 
of living for another meal: that's when he starts to fight exultantly, be- 
cause his private battle's lost and he suddenly realizes that the whole of 
the larger battle belongs to him." 

She said: "They've told me that.*' 

But he did not seem to hear her now. He went on groping for 
words, as if speech were a new and painful exercise for him. Like the 
men he had recalled to her, the men lying arm-to-arm in the stinking 
twilight of the long tents at Prishtina, this one with his head against 
her knees was a shabby heap of cloth and skin, used up and insignifi- 
cant; as with them, only a part of him was here, the rest straining 
towards some view that he saw through shifting cloud; and like their 
voices, his was stripped of emotion, trammelled and spent: 

"I wish I could explain, what it feels like to stop fighting in loneli- 
ness. It gives one's life its meaning — you can't find any meaning in a 
civil war that's only a procession of defeats, you've got to look for it 
outside. Only it's more than that. It's like what a plant might feel 
when it breaks the surface after winter, with its roots still in the dark 
soil. Do you understand what I'm saying? It's as if you were burnt 
alive and when your power to suffer was exhausted you felt your body 
turning into part of the fire itself. It's safety and peace." 

"Have I spoilt that?" 

"For a time. In the end nothing can spoil it." 

There were footsteps on the stairs, a voice called stridently: 
"There's a taxi, Mr Grist, he says a fellow sent him." 

361 



Elizabeth did not grasp this: she had forgotten that there were 
taxis, that there were streets and people and time passing; but Trevon 
called in his ordinary voice: "Thank-you, Mrs Elm. Would you tell 
him to wait about two minutes?" He was on his feet. He took her coat 
from where she had thrown it and held it near the fire to warm, so that 
she, performing her part in the routine they had been through a hun- 
dred times, got up and held her cuffs. Then the mechanism petered 
out, and she stood quite still, looking gravely at his numb and anguished 
eyes. She said, as if there had been no interruption: 

"It couldn't happen with me. I wish it could. It doesn't happen 
with ordinary people." 

"You think it's just a part of my illness?" 

"No. It's a power you've got and I haven't. I couldn't ever admit 
my own defeat." 

"You have, to me." 

"To you, yes. Anything to you." 

He had dropped the coat; her glance came down to his hand fid- 
dling at the point of his waistcoat as if with a tired life of its own, 
and she began to chafe it as one chafes a child's hand which the cold 
has numbed. 

"We're different," she said. "I'm ordinary, I don't see far. I 
couldn't have that experience unless it came from some creature like 
myself." 

"But it can't." 

Without having to search for words she said: "I know that it 
comes from love. Isn't that what you mean?" 

"Only from perfect love, divine love." 

"Isn't human love the same?" 

"No. Human love is always partly selfish, and selfishness is always 
cruelty." 

She said: "I don't need perfection, I only need to love. I couldn't 
love you if you were perfect. You've told me what you are, and that's 
what I want. I want to know quite certainly that you'll always be as 
near to me as you are now." 

"My heart will be. That can't alter. I can't ever want it to alter." 

She brought the passive hand up to her face. "That isn't enough. 
I want these hands, and your voice. I want the way your mouth moves 
when you're shy and worried, and the smell of your clothes. I must 
have the whole of you, your body as well." 

362 



He took his hand away. "That's what I've been afraid of, that's 
why we mustn't see each other any more. I've told you — my body's 
not fit for anyone to touch, you least of all. It's nothing but poison." 

"I've looked after poisoned bodies." 

"You don't realize!" he said, with the kind of anger a frightened 
child shows, "you don't know what it's like, this thing I've got. It may 
get me paralysed all over and it may go to the brain— any time — they 
don't know — " 

He had backed into a chair, his face was down between his knees 
and he was trembling. She said quietly, as she knelt beside him: 

"You'll need me if that happens." 

And then his control gave way. 

"Need you!" He was weeping without restraint. "What good do 
you think you'd be when I'd given you my disease! What could you do 
when you were just the same as me!" 

"You will need me," she repeated. 

Her tears were flowing as freely as his, but to her, tears made no 
difference: with all her normal powers exhausted she moved and spoke, 
in this unimagined hour, as certainly as a homer flies upon release. With 
both her hands she forced up his head until she could bring her mouth 
to his eyes and then his lips. 

"What does it matter, another illness in a body as sick as mine! 
What else could I do but lose my reason if you lost yours! My dear, 
my darling, do you think I wouldn't give as much as that for the glory 
of caring for you! My own beloved, my precious own, do you think 
there's anything better I can do with myself than give it all to you!" 

From the meaningless world outside the voice of Mrs Elm broke 
on her ears once more. "I'm very sorry, Mr Grist, but he says he's 
tired of waiting. He says he wants to be paid off. Dreadful things he's 
saying, I don't know what neighbourhood he comes from!" and the 
arms starting to close upon her in surrender and conquest immediately J 
fell limp again. Trevon called, "All right, I'll see him!" gently moving 
her so that he could get to his feet. He picked her coat up from the 
floor, put it unceremoniously in her hands and turned away. 

It was reality that seemed unreal, as after a rough sea voyage 
the solid earth appears to tilt and heave. While he stood against the 
window-sill with his eyes on nothing in particular, his closed mouth 
twisting oddly, she got ready to go as on any other evening: fastened 

363 



her coat, went over to the little mirror to put a comb through her hair, 
picked up her gloves and bag; but she seemed to be performing that 
routine as an actress would, obeying a producer's intention rather than 
her own. Sight and hearing were curious, objects about the room altered 
in size and level as her glance strayed to them. 

Pulling himself together, Trevon said abruptly, "I'd better see that 
man!" and went off down the stairs, leaving her to follow. That was 
where she needed — in the strictest sense — his support. But the body 
works faithfully for those who drop the reins; her hand found the rail 
and her feet, feeling their way to each step with caution, brought her 
safely to the passage below. On the pavement a pound note had finished 
the argument with the driver, who was starting his engine. 

"You'll be all right?" Trevon asked stupidly, helping her into the 
cab as he would have done with anyone else: no bending to let his 
mouth touch her hair, no pressure of the hand. There was something, 
she thought, that he tried to say, but it did not come. The street-lamp 
showed his grey face wearing the smile that Englishmen put on when 
photographers entreat them to look pleasant; he stood as still as a 
dummy while the cab drew them apart, an unwieldy derelict, growing, 
by some freak of shadow or of her exhausted senses, not smaller but 
immense. 

Enough, the peace of emptiness, the stillness of a mind drained out; 
the remembered faces all withdrawn into the skirt of shadow, the many 
voices hushed except for his. 

. . . What it feels like to stop fighting in loneliness . . . 

The fog had lifted, the air washing her face from a broken window 
was clear and cold, smelling of trains. So these were real, the lighted 
meter and the moist, deserted pavements, the blind shop-fronts drawing 
away. A red light changed to green and from the dark lake silver- 
webbed with tram hnes the Elephant rose like an island fortress and 
disappeared among the shifting lights behind. Had that been a dream, 
then, his tears, the roughness of his skin against her hands? Enough 
that the glowing warmth of it remained: safety and peace. 

Climbing to that high country, breathing easily an air too rarefied 
for her lungs, he had left her far behind. But the sureness of his ascent 
seemed to be nothing beside the certainty with which her own spirit 
was filled, knowledge transcending reason, contentment hidden beyond 
the reach of fear, her first and full awareness of love's furious power. 

364 



These faces emerging in the band of light where her car waited for a 
van to pass, the woman who leant on her man's arm as if it was a 
balustrade, a trio of young men vacuously laughing, did they know love? 
The only good, the only reality: from a spirit wrapped in the feverish 
warmth and stillness of that returning ecstasy her pity flowed to them 
like sunshine on to frozen fields, creatures whose hearts must be 
blessed by the mere passing of one so enriched as hers. The dearest 
thing on earth to me, his preciously familiar voice suddenly broken 
beneath an emotion she had not imagined in him: so full a tide of 
sweetness would not be contained within one being, it gathered in pos- 
session the dark, deserted city, weaving from the shadows upon a yellow 
blind, a scarlet cafe-sign, the tumid figures of a lighted hoarding, the 
mysterious tapestry of love. Some imperfection lingered: he should be 
here, surely, where she might feel his hands and rest her cheek against 
his coat: something had happened which would have to be recalled. But 
the doubt was too far off, too weak to penetrate the motionless depth 
of love's security. The grey wall ended, in the silken black arena hedged 
with fragmented light a red lamp ran toward her like a falling star 
and vanished below her feet. She all but slept. She heard faintly through 
the hiss of tyres on wet macadam the raucous voice of someone singing, 
the sad face of a girl in evening dress appeared for an instant close to 
her own. But loneliness itself, she whispered, smiling from the darkness 
of the cab, is only an illusion. When the houses stood back again she 
smelt faintly the trees in Vincent Square. 

She knew, with the signs of morning creeping in, a paleness showing 
below the curtains, the rattle of a lorry in Brompton Road, that the 
first redoubt had yet to be taken. With his own love bound by selfless- 
ness outside her comprehension he had refused to surrender to hers. 
But when I have made him know my heart, she said, he will be blinded 
by his pity to the pity I feel for him. The reading-lamp was on, she was 
lying on her bed fully dressed with the finished life surrounding her, 
the photographs, Henry's letter on the chest of drawers. She had given 
something to the driver, she supposed, and brought herself up in the 
lift. She did not remember having slept. 

It is settled, she thought, there is no more misery of doubt about 
the country ahead. Upon the dark screen of pain and fatigue the out- 
line of her mission was drawn now with an architect's thin, clear lines: 
no picture of a home's mellow contentment, tenderness broadened and 
deepened by succeeding years of close companionship; no fancy even 

365 



of his weakness supported by her strength; only a grinding partner- 
ship of pain, the dreadful watch upon a man smking into decay by a 
woman who struggled more and more hopelessly, against her own 
enfeeblement, to stave off ultimate collapse. And for what reward? She 
did not even believe, unless it was possible to believe at second-hand, 
in the transcendency on which his life was centred. Knowing so much 
of herself she could not imagine that her power to understand him 
would increase or that he would grow more open to her understanding. 
Denied the enrichment which other lovers find in sharing freely the 
past or the future, she could love and serve him only for what he was 
today. 

The chink of cup and saucer, the soft brush of the door against 
thick carpet. "Oh, Lucy, did I frighten you! . . . Yes, I was feeling 
rather poorly when I got back, I'm all right now . . ." 

With that she was satisfied. His outward roughness and the gentle- 
ness that escaped in his hands and voice, his sudden, private smile, even 
the agonies of his self-distrust, these her memory would cherish when 
they were lost in his dissolution. These were the blooms which love 
could gather and keep; and she had seen beyond them a preciousness 
which the grossest of his imperfections could not pollute. That mys- 
terious value, belonging covertly to human spirits, intensely to his, 
depended neither on the body's wholeness nor finally upon the mind's. 
For what was left of her power to give and suffer she needed no greater 
object than this: no smaller could be enough. 

The room, suddenly opened to grey daylight, seemed strange and 
foreign; the locked air, the sterile memories which haunted costly furni- 
ture, bore heavily upon her forehead, where the taxi's motion still 
worked like a clinging tune. With the opening of a window the noises 
of the town's recovered energy were starting to infiltrate; the lift-gate 
rattled for the first time and letters splashed into the corridor outside. 
Presently the telephone would ring. 

"No, Lucy dear, no breakfast. But I'll be up in a few minutes. Yes, 
really, I'm perfectly all right." 

It would lift, this weight of lethargy, she would be able to see 
people, talk, make decisions. It did not matter being so weak, and in 
such pain, when the new fire burnt so brilliantly within. 



366 



29 



w« 



HEN tea was over, the children who had come to celebrate 
Antonia's eleventh birthday were coaxed and shooed into the front 
room, while the grown-ups were led upstairs to the bedroom. ''Gian 
will do all the organizing that's needed," Armorel said to Duffy, "he's 
wonderful with children." She was in her blue-grey velvet dress, six 
years old but so skilfully altered that it did not look out of fashion: 
indeed, it seemed more distinguished than Christine's afternoon frock, 
which Heurtel had made for her a month before. It was, of course, 
exactly right for the room, where the dismantled bed and the washstand 
had been screened off, and where her skill and taste had worked so 
shrewdly that you scarcely realized how absurdly small it was for eight 
people to sit in. 

But Guy Filliard, Duffy's eldest boy, was the one who began the 
organizing downstairs. At tea his shyness had worn off alarmingly, and 
now, when his host suggested hunt-the-slipper, postman's knock, dumb- 
crambo, he shouted, "Oh, bosh! Girls' game — sloppy!" 

"I know one rather good game," Michael Kinfowell began. ''You 
start by getting into pairs — " 

"I know — sloppy!" said Guy. Without malice he picked up a 
cushion and hurled it at Michael's head. "How's that? Out — middle 
stump! Bowler's name, Filliard, G. Listen — keep quiet, all of you! 
(Ned, you take this and slosh anyone who speaks.) We'll have try-by- 
ordeal, we play that at Torrage House. It wants hundreds of chaps, 
really. These girls will have to do as chaps. You start by getting into 
two lines: all except you — fudge-face — you're going to be Criminal. 
Come on, you others — two lines!" 

Arthur Augustus Liske started to cry. He did not know what a 
criminal was, but instinct told him there would be no fun in being one. 
He had a bit of a headache, Arthur said, and would rather like to go 
to Mummy. 

"Eats too much!" Guy shouted, and certainly Arthur was a little 
over-fleshed. "Ned, just slosh him a bit!" Guy said to his willing 
brother, adding rationally, "Then he'll see it doesn't really hurt." 

"I don't think it's a nice game," Alice Derby said. 

"Nor do I," said her sister. 

"Perhaps I'd better be Criminal," Michael suggested. 

Gian intervened. "Might be a bit too rough, that sort of a game. 

367 



Not much room in here, see what I mean. There's a game I know on, 
now, where you got to make the noise of an animal." 

Guy gave him a glance of fury. ''We'll have just ordinary sloshing, 
then. Got a snitch-rag, anyone? — we've got to blindfold one of the girls 
and then she points and the one she points to gets sloshed." 

"Now see here," Gian persisted, "I want you all to get in a ring, 
see." 

"This one," yelled Guy, pouncing on Muriel Derby. "Gosh — 
pinko, she's a wriggler! Get the snitch on her, Ned." 

" 'Ere now, easy, that's enough of that! Get into a ring was what 
I said. Come on, now!" 

"Slosh him, Ned, get on his legs!" 

With some bravery Alice intercepted the small but bellicose Ned, 
seizing one ankle and holding it with all the strength of her thin and 
crooked body. "Mum wouldn't like it," she whimpered, "Mum said 
particular we was to behave nice with the boys." 

The golden prospect of the party had filled her thoughts for three 
weeks past, and now, with her satinette frock already torn, she longed 
to be with the friends she could see through the window. In this august 
and alien room there were Muriel, and Mrs Bodwin's Elsie, and Tommie 
Ede from the shop: the rest outlandish strangers, except for Tonie 
Ardree herself, and to be so close to Tonie, object of trembling adora- 
tion, centre of exquisite shy dreams, was in itself an experience too 
rich to be borne for long. 

"Coo, havin' a fight they are nowl" The minute but virile son of 
Hull the plumber had got his elbows up on the sill outside, his nose 
pressed against the window. "Coo, he got on to Muriel, the big shiny, 
he's goin' to strangle her with his bloodstained snooter. Cor, doin' her 
in a treat, got her eyes protrudin' out like balls o' lard — pop! — there 
go one on 'em, woosh, rolHn' about the fumin' floor!" 

But his friends could see the show well enough for themselves: 
the Lanchester which the unteachable Raymond had brought to save 
himself the indignity of a short tram- journey was standing exactly 
opposite the window, and not fewer than nine of the younger inhabi- 
tants of Weald Street were on its roof, yelling and gossiping. "Alice — 
don't she look a masterpiece in that get-up!" "That's only what her 
auntie gone an' cut down for her." "Look like a fumin' duchess, if you 
ask me." "He don't look right, Tommie Ede don't, with nothink on top 
of his braces. Oughter have a scarf or somethin'." "Them? Them all 

368 



come outa Buckn'm Palace!" ''Oyl Tom-eee. Had y'r eats yet?" While 
those who had failed to find a place or had got shoved off were holding 
each other up to the window-sill or creeping into the front passage to 
have a squint by turns through the front-room keyhole. "See y', El-sie! 
Owsit go, Tom-boy? Got any eats left over? Goo on, Mure, you hit him 
back, you plaster him, he ain't nothin' but a fumin' shiny!" 

"Yes," said Christine upstairs, sensuously fingering her fox stole, 
"it did sound like Arthur Augustus — not the last howl, the one before 
that. He always blubbers at parties the moment I leave him, poor sweet. 
Mother-fixation or something. So psych-whatisit! So vulgar and en- 
dearing!" 

"Of course you know really Guy is most terribly sensitive," said 
Duffy, warm and smiling under a hat like one of the earliest aeroplanes. 
"Entirely different from Ned — Ned's just his father all over again, he's 
practical, always doing something with his hands. You really ought to 
see the pipe-rack he made for Gruff, exactly how it said in The Young 
Handyman only with cardboard instead of wood. Only Gruff never can 
remember to use it, poor darling. And you know he's quite fast for his 
size — of course Gruff's hoping to make a sloshing wing three-quarter 
out of him. Rellie darling, I do think it's just marvellous of you to give 
all these kids such a wonderful tea. And this house and everything, I 
always tell Gruff, I say it's exactly like finding a superb oasis in the 
very middle of the ocean. What a shame Elizabeth couldn't come — I 
suppose it's all the worry that's knocked her out. Such a sweet boy, 
Michael is. I suppose she won't be out of hospital for weeks and weeks. 
Tell me, has Gordon settled down all right at his new school? It all 
sounds terribly original and fascinating from what you said in your 
letter. Does he write to you every week? — Guy's wonderful about that, 
I get some sort of a letter every Tuesday in term-time, only of course 
not always terribly legible, but there's always the crosses at the end. he 
never forgets those, he's awfully sweet and good about it." 

"No," Armorel said, "they don't allow them to write home." 

Without appearing to take her eyes away from Duffy, she was cast- 
ing lightning glances to assure herself that Simon had somewhere to 
knock out his pipe and Maria someone to talk to, that Raymond was 
not too bored, that Georgie had not been squeezed into one of those 
chairs where you couldn't keep your skirts as far down as an old lady 
liked. She did not so much dominate as pervade the room; her small, 
graceful gestures, the sweetness of her voice and smile seemed to bring 

369 



the whole of it into the gentle radiance that is imparted by skilful 
lighting. 

"You see, they work on Liedke-Urban's principles, which means 
they do everything to avoid the drangvoll jurchterliche Enge of conflict- 
ing influences. It's when you have the parent-love impulse and the man- 
fellowship impulse working on the undeveloped mind at the same time 
that you get an overload, and that means that something's got to snap." 

"Oh," Duffy said. "Oh, how interesting." 

"Yes, I do feel that I'm rather lucky about Gustav Leidke-Urban 
— the great thing is that he does let me see the whole process on which 
he's working. Of course he has to deal with a great many parents of the 
slightly unbalanced kind, religious repressives and Dartington senti- 
mentalists and all the rest of them, so I suppose when he does find 
he's got someone of — well — slightly higher intelligence to work with he 
rather enjoys not having to beat about the bush, if you see what I 
mean . . . Yes, Daisy, what is it?" 

Wearing a muslin apron for the first time in her life, Daise stood 
half-inside the door, staring at the carpet, "It's Mr Olleroyd, Mrs Jan, 
says he wants to help dry up." 

The smile that played upon all Armorel's guests was spread to 
warm Daise as well. 

"That's very kind of him." 

"Only it's perks he's after. There's the rock cakes not touched, he's 
got his eye on them." 

"Of course, yes! I hope he'll share them with Brodie." As the door 
closed again Armorel turned to Raymond. "Daisy's not quite herself 
today, poor thing. I think she's worrying about her father — ^he's had 
some sort of accident and they've taken him off to St Thomas's . . . 
Georgie, dear, are you comfortable in that chair? I'm afraid it's all a 
terrible squash. You know we're looking out for somewhere to give us 
a little more elbow-room. Of course I personally shall be sorry to leave 
this house — " 

" — So original!" said Christine with her ready kindness. "So 
bijou!" 

" — You see, I feel we made it ourselves, and it's full of memories. 
Only Gian feels he wants something rather more substantial, and it 
doesn't do for wives to be a drag on their men's ambitions. Madre, did 
you get enough tea — there was such an uproar I couldn't look after 
you properly!" 



"If you felt like living in Coventry you might buy Mummy's 
house/' Christine suggested, "the one she had with Roger. I know she 
wants to sell as soon as her lawyers have hoofed Roger out of it." 

"Coventry must be an interesting place to live in," said Duffy, who 
was trying to pick out Ned's voice from the uproar below. 

Christine was visited by her chapeau-de-poil smile. 

"That's what Mummy used to think." 

"But at this time of year," Raymond said to Maria with the 
laboured courtesy which induced a nervous depression even in the 
strong-minded, "you must often long for the sunshine of your native 
country." 

"Aeh? Yes. But no." 

Swaddled in layer after layer of bombazine, fastened in the low 
wicker chair by the weight of her own rolling flesh and of the occasion, 
Maria kept absolutely still. Only her eyes darted towards Raymond's 
face like those of a trapped mouse, and swivelled guiltily back to 
Armorel's. 

"The ole lady got used to London," Simon explained. "Ain't y', 
Maria?" 

The tangled voices from below and from the street were suddenly 
overridden by a burst of sound directly outside the door, the ripe and 
volleying voice of Mr Brodie: "Come on, Olleroyd, you old two-faced 
double-crossing devil you! It was two teapots I did, and they were the 
damnedest, and that was two more of them tiddling wee bloody cakes 
you said, on the Book you did!" Then the puffed voice, the little angry 
squeaks of Olleroyd were beaten down by the blast of Brodie's trium- 
phant laughter, a plate went crashing down the stairs to destruction 
and the agonized voice of Daise rose from the last tinkle: "There now 
— just look at what you've gone an' been an' done!" 

"My cousin's always been so fond of Italy," Georgina said help- 
fully. "He used to travel a lot when he was younger. Only now he's so 
busy with his politics and things. I think it's so nice when foreigners 
come and live with us. Only of course we don't think of them as 
foreigners any more. When they live with us, I mean. And these pass- 
ports and things, it must make it all so difficult." 

"Maria here never had no passport, m'm," Simon said. 

"Oh. But then there's so much to enjoy in travel. I always wanted 
to travel myself, but I never seemed to have time." 

"Two and a half times round the world I've been, m'm." 



371 



"Oh!" Georgina was a little faint from the stresses of the after- 
noon: the dreadful silence of Edith before she started, taxi-drivers 
grumbling over their tips, a hot and noisy tea, steep stairs, and now the 
feeling that many gigantic strangers were pressing in on her with com- 
pHcated speeches. ''Then you must have finished in Australia or some- 
where like that. So wonderful and interesting. And then of course 
people go in aeroplanes nowadays." Aeroplanes, she thought, and the 
men who steered them were called pilots. Like Miss Wilberforce's 
nephew, only he was a sea pilot. And it was Miss Wilberforce's other 
nephew who had married and gone to New York. "Rellie!" she called, 
" — no, don't let me interrupt you — only I've just remembered who 
it was who had the jumper that might do for Tonie — it's a Mrs Lan- 
caster. I've got the address written down beside the telephone — it got 
burnt in one of the elbows and she had to mend it with green wool 
because she hadn't any blue." She turned to Maria again. ''It is diffi- 
cult, isn't it, with wool! Do you think that Tonic's like you? I think 
she's got the wonderful colour of your eyes. You must be just as proud 
of her as — as my sister and I are. And the last time I saw little Gordon 
I thought he had a look of you, Mr Ardree. His mouth, I thought it 
was." 

"Gior-done?" said Maria unexpectedly. "Tsey lock him up!" 

Simon said quickly; "Well, you see how it is, Gian take it a bit 
hard, it go against his feelin's, that's natral. The ole lady don't mean 
no more than that, do you, Maria?" 

But Maria was already back in her shell, her frightened eyes on 
her daughter-in-law. 

"It might be you could say a word, m'm," Simon pursued in a 
cautious undertone. "Some time when it's no trouble, see what I mean. 
Might be you could put it the way it might sound all right, the way I 
don't have the use of the words without no proper schoolin'. Course, 
she got a very fine headpiece, my son's missis. Only he bein' my son, 
see — an' Maria's here — it's natral I can't put up with seein' him all 
down an' mucky in his mind, see what I mean." 

Armorel's clear, soft laugh rippled across the room. "Oh, Duffy 
darling, you mustn't be so sentimental! Of course she doted on Tonie, 
Sunday-school teachers are like that. That's why she was so dangerous." 

"Yes," said Georgina with her affectionate smile, thinking that 
Simon's grave eyes had become rather beautiful with age, that Maria 
must have some inner loveliness to inspire so steadfast a devotion, "I'm 



372 



sure he's going to develop into a splendid boy in the end. Isn't he, 
Raymond!" 

Raymond, after a second or two, answered firmly: "I've never had 
any doubt about that!" 

And whom or what was the old dear talking about? he wondered. 
But he gave her the smile which he kept for very few, for he saw 
at that moment, completely unchanged, the one woman who thirty 
years before had been simple enough to understand him and to bathe 
his wounds with her selfless kindness. It gave him pleasure just to 
watch her face, on which a lifetime of subservience, of petty anxiety 
and self-distrust had worked as greater sorrows work upon stronger 
spirits, imparting to the clear skin of her cheeks and forehead the 
beauty of use and wear, enriching the gentleness of the recessed, Cepin- 
nier eyes. For the moment his embarrassment was submerged. The 
ordeal of reaching this abhorred street, of meeting people outside his 
routine, was over. In the next few minutes there was nothing for him 
to do but to sit and smoke, to feel the ease and distinction of the suit 
his tailor had lately built for him, exchange the smallest conversational 
coin with people whose minds were as sluggish as his own. It made so 
much difference, having Georgie with him; his own kin and almost, as 
he felt now, his own generation; a failure like himself, another offshoot 
of sinewed stock which had somehow deviated into feebleness. Her 
presence drew his thoughts and senses comfortably back into the past: 
to summer holidays at Standle Minster, the breeze which moved on the 
hottest afternoon under Villier's elms, the smell of hay; back to the 
only London he really cared for and still vaguely hoped to find again, 
the different smell of fog in augustly sleeping squares, a Chancery 
Lane of tall hats and men darting to scoop up the horse-droppings, 
everything that started from the schooled pomposity of Dimber's voice, 
'The carriage has arrived for Master Raymond.' Yes, as likely as not 
those brats downstairs were using his Scott hat for charades, while 
the urchins bawling outside were adding some thirty per cent to the 
normal depreciation of his motor. Yet beyond this proscenium of noise, 
beyond the grimed and meanly uniform windows on the other side of 
the street, he thought he perceived some afterglow of an early pos- 
session, a gigantic and pervading presence which soothed his timorous 
spirit. The chintzy smell which generally hung in this room was hidden 
today by a strange entanglement of odours, something exotic which 
Christine wore, the must of Maria's clothes; but from the open window 



373 



there came now and then the subtler breath of the street, air that 
never wholly escaped, flavoured with damp smoke and ancient dust, 
stained with the very colour as it seemed to him of this city's yellow- 
dun complexion. The little table on which Rellie had arranged the 
flowers so beautifully was always trembling a little. Some new distrac- 
tion sent the mob outside scampering up the pavement, and as a lull 
fell upon their cries he could hear through the mesh of jerry-built walls 
the low reverberation of traffic flooding all the knotted veins of Camber- 
well, the distant, continuous hubbub of trains: a fabric of sound so 
thickly woven that it had the quality of silence, movements so multi- 
farious and persistent that their total effect was like repjDse. It belonged 
to him, after all, this most indestructible of men's creations, this be- 
wilderment of brick and smoke in which he could never find his place; 
it was dearer to him, surely, than to Simon here, who stank of its dust. 
Some of his forebears had built these very streets, some whose names 
still showed in the wharfs by Greenwich Reach had brought the wealth 
of India and the Indies here in their wooden ships; and in Georgie's 
quietness, the gracious light that flowed from her eyes over Simon and 
Maria, the unstudied dignity with which she sat on the cheap bedroom 
chair, he saw a calm defiance not only of their present surroundings but 
of the cheapening wrought by time. There are spirits, he thought, and 
not only the bravest, which reassure us when we are frightened; and 
then, wondering why his mind should throw up that word, he seemed to 
catch for an instant the smell of sodden turf, a fleeting view through 
November mist of the skyline of Grosvenor Place. What was it this 
Mrs Filliard had said about Elizabeth being ill? His Elizabeth, did she 
mean? 

"Is Mrs Ardree here?" The small, red face of Mr Brodie was stuck 
in the narrowly opened door. "I wouldn't be bothering you, Mrs Ardree, 
but I'd like you to know it wasn't me at all that had the plate broken. 
It might be OUeroyd would say I took it off his hands, and in God's 
holy truth it was all the other way." 

Unruffled, Armorel broke off her conversation with Christine to 
answer: "Yes, Mr Olleroyd's always the smarter of you two when 
it comes to a scrap, isn't he! Aunt Georgie, I don't think you've met my 
co-tenant, Mr Brodie — " 

That was enough : as abruptly as it had appeared the face vanished 
and the door was shut again. And who, Raymond reflected, could 
handle every situation as deftly as this cousin of his whom he still 



374 



thought of as scarcely more than a child! Here, surely, was evidence 
that however much the Truggett strain had weakened in himself its 
sap was still potent in later shoots. Nodding politely to Simon, who went 
on and on about some technicality in stage carpentering, murmuring, 
"Remarkable! ... I never realized that . . . Yes, it must call for 
extraordinary skill . . ." he kept her just within his view. How un- 
perturbed she was by the tumult from below, how little trouble this 
party seemed to give her! She had noticed the miserable shyness of 
her sister-in-law, caparisoned like an old-fashioned trollop and dumped 
rather than seated on a Cromer's Ride chair, and had steered her 
adroitly into conversation with the kind Mrs Filliard. She was paying 
a sisterly attention to Christine's prattle and yet contriving to give 
encouraging smiles to Simon, a glance of affection towards Georgie, 
as if the simultaneous exercise of several personalities put no special 
tax on her resource. Like a musician, he thought, watching the little 
fluid movements of her delicate throat and chin, seeing how unob- 
trusively she turned her chair a trifle to bring Maria within command, 
how while Mrs Filliard's hands were always fidgeting with hair or 
dress Rellie's lay still: like a pianist from whose body the chords appear 
to flow so directly that one scarcely credits the intervenient mechanism 
of hammers and strings. Her voice was almost the quietest in the room, 
yet its very gentleness so held his senses that he hardly missed a word 
she said. Had civilization achieved a more perfect flower than this, a 
creature whose rarities of form and understanding were used to respond 
with fragrance alike to the choicest and dullest of those who came 
within her field? And had this woman, still young, discovered what the 
saints seemed to achieve and what he himself was for ever fumbling 
after, a way of living richly without the need for any intense relation- 
ship? For there, he thought, was the only security: to be independent 
of particular affections, to accept the kindness people were ready to give 
but never to hazard one's contentment in a vessel so exposed to wind 
and tide as the heart of another being. 

"Most interesting!" he said to Simon with unfaltering urbanity. 
"And I suppose you find theatrical life quite different in some ways 
from life aboard ship?" 

". . . Syrup of Figs," Duffy was saying. "Yes, I know it's most 
frightfully old-fashioned, but Gruff just won't approve of psychiatrists, 
and one must do something." 

"I think that children nowadays crave for excitement much more 



375 



than we did," Georgina said wisely but with diffidence. "Of course there 
used to be those air-raids when they were born. I suppose they miss all 
that." 

"So monotonous!" Christine said harmoniously. "So unsettling!" 

Maria, bursting free from the toils of shyness, said abruptly: "Air- 
aits? Hn! Mist Mar-shall, gelman conducse tram, Mist Mar-shall buy 
itse grant fiasca fis air-ait!" Her head jerked uncontrollably, there 
came as of old one frightening crack of laughter. "Now he have not 
one hair lef!" 

The scuffle and hubbub from the front passage was amplified as the 
door opened and the embarrassing form of Daise appeared again. 

"It's Mrs Eustace, Mrs Jan. She want to take off the bits of that 
plate Mr Brodie threw at Mr Olleroyd. She say she know a fellow as 
can mend it up. I tell her she can't have 'em, not without you or Mr 
Jan say she can, an' Mr Jan said I was to ask you." 

For one moment Raymond saw the lines of Armorel's mouth hard- 
ening. But before she spoke she was smiling again. "Really, you know, 
Mrs Eustace did promise she'd stay out till six! I'll see her presently." 
And her voice fell back into its former softness as she turned to Georgie: 
"You know, Gian's so terribly tender-hearted about Mrs Eustace! I 
suppose one day the poor old thing will find somewhere else to live." 

In the front passage the invaders were chanting in chorus: 

"When their guts an* their bellies 
Are full up with jellies 
They'll chuck 'em all over the plice!" 

"I do hope the noise doesn't worry you, Aunt Georgie." 

Duffy, thinking of ringworm, said: "They all sound very happy." 

"So uninhibited! So quatorze juilletf' Christine said. 

Perhaps it was merely the starched collars and muslin frocks, but 
these children all seemed to Gian so different from the ones at Apostles' 
Court. Still, he had got most of them into some kind of order at last, 
Arthur Augustus had carefully dried his tears with a silk handkerchief 
and even Muriel Derby had stopped crying. Except for one or two 
rebels they were all in two recognizable circles on the floor, and the 
lean, overgrown Evangeline Hugg, blindfolded, was reciting once again 
in her high, nasal sing-song: 

376 



*'And you and you 
By two and two 
Upon the field of Waterloo. 
One — two — three — changeover!" 

They did not very strictly observe the rules. Tommie Ede in mount- 
ing excitement did a change again and again when Evangeline's finger 
pointed nowhere near him, using each change as an opportunity to barge 
his opposite number or blow down someone's neck. Tonie's round and 
rosy school-friend Marigold had formed a compact with Elsie Bodwin 
and they did a private change each time, both turning somersaults and 
getting their legs entwined, till the Derby s were impelled to join them 
and the floor became a tangle of brightly coloured knickers, legs weav- 
ing like antennae and red, inverted faces spurting hysterical laughter; 
while tiny Audrey, Terence Hubbitt's child, who had been slightly sick, 
lay with her head against Evangeline's legs and refused to change at all. 

"I hope this doesn't bore you," Tonie said as she changed accord- 
ing to Cocker with Arthur Augustus. 

''Oh, no, it's very interesting." 

"Now you, Tom Ede," Gian shouted into the din, "you're gettin' 
too many turns an' no mistake! Come on now, back to places for the 
next change! Somebody different do Boney now — what about you. 
Master Ned? All right, you, Alice Durby!" Longing for the masterful 
presence of Flock, he wiped his forehead with his sleeve and put on the 
resolute grin again, while Audrey Hubbitt in a startling access of per- 
sonality jumped on a chair and blew a tickler into his ear. "Now can't 
we have it just a bit quieter, for the sake of one an' all!" 

Above the new crescendo of laughter the voice of Tommie Ede rose 
like an engine's whistle: "Cor — see what she done to the ole basket?" 

"Well, I say she didn't ought!" came the voice of Alice in protest. 
"He's Tonie's dad, he's payin' for it, after all!" 

"There are some what ain't never learnt how to behave!" Evange- 
line agreed. 

In one bound Tommie was on top of Alice and pushing her paper 
cap down her neck. "Who d'y' think you are! — Don't talk s' daft!" 

"You leaver alone!" 

"Tommie, please, please/'^ 

"Now, see here, Tom Ede! '' With a careful movement of his power- 



377 



ful leg Gian hooked the boy away; he stooped to pick up Muriel, who 
had broken again into sympathetic tears, and covered her head with 
kisses. "Somebody see what's in my pocket!" and as they leapt upon 
him in a pack to seize and scatter the bull's-eyes, and got him down and 
rolled him about and sat on his head, his anxiety turned at last into 
happy laughter. "Goo on, Audery, have a tug! There's one of them 
ears still stickin' to my pore ole face!" 

"Cor!" the outside audience yelled delightedly. "They got the ole 
bloke now, they're going to do a murder on 'im, they're tearing' out 'is 
bleedin' lights!" 

"Uncle Gian is really most kind," Arthur Augustus said to Tonie. 
^'I think these children are enjoying themselves a great deal." 

The Filliards cared for none of these things. They had found that 
a small space between the wall and the end of the piano gave just 
enough room for Catchpole's questions, and in Michael Kinfowell, fair 
and slender, high in forehead and with rather dreamy, long-lashed eyes, 
they had recognized an ideal third man. Michael, whose approach to 
parties was quietist, had politely fallen in with their suggestion, and 
they had him upside down, his head and shoulders on the floor and the 
rest of his back supported by Armorel's sewing-machine, one leg pulled 
over and hooked under the piano's keyboard, the other held by Ned. 
Ned put most of the questions. 

"What are all your mother's Christian names? . . . How old are 
you in hours — answer in one minute! . . . Time up!" 

"Sloshing Number One!" said Guy in his businesslike way. "Heads 
or tails, Ned? Tails it isn't — my slosh! Wait a mo' while I roll up my 
sleeves." 

"How long does this go on?" Michael inquired. 

"No questions!" the Filliards shouted in chorus, and Guy ex- 
plained: "You don't ask questions, you only answer them. Do you 
think, Ned, one extra slosh for asking questions? . . . Well, I think it 
counts as part of my turn, really." 

"O.K. Then I have the first double-slosh that comes." 

"O.K., lieutenant! Put a half-Nelson on that leg, will you, we'll 
want his shoe for the double . . . Right away!" 

"Question Number Eight — Dr Catchpole wants to know: What is 
the feminine of 'My fathers wash a man'?" 

" 'My mothers wash a woman.' " 

378 



The Filliards fell into a paroxysm of mirth. "Did you hear that, 
you scarks? He says his mother's a washerwoman!" 

"Now don't you lads be hurtin' each other!" Gian said over his 
shoulder. 

"Actually I didn't say that," Michael put in mildly. "The sentence 
I said hadn't got an article before 'wash'." 

"What's he saying, Ned?" 

"He says he hasn't got an article." 

"Well, that's rude. Double-sloshing for that!" 

The rest were wholly occupied in competing for three extra bull's- 
eyes with backward somersaults, and there was no clear evidence that 
Michael was at all worried with Dr Catchpole. Alice Derby did wonder 
that any mortal should suffer no hurt in being so incessantly belaboured 
with all the force two sturdy youngsters had at their command, but she 
supposed that a boy enjoyed this sort of thing. Only Tonie, looking 
round from the border of the larger scrimmage, saw that his face was 
over-red and his mouth held shut in a way that did not look quite 
natural. 

"Hang on to that leg, you chump!" Guy barked. "He's trying 
to escape." 

Ned hung on. 

"If you don't mind," Michael said modestly, "you are hurting my 
leg just a bit." 

"One more sloshing!" yelled the brothers in triumphant chorus. 
"Super-slosh for sissy talk." 

"No!" said a voice behind them. "You're to stop that." 

Without looking round, Guy took his stance for the next slosh. His 
wrist was seized. 

"I said 'Stop'!" 

"Girl Guides on the warpath!" Guy remarked. 

He jerked his hand free, completed the super-slosh and turned 
round to face the interrupter with a bright, glinting smile. Then he 
scarcely knew what happened, only that something crashed against his 
face with the force of gunpowder, that he was in momentary darkness 
and then howling on the floor. 

"Here now! Here now! What's all this?" Gian demanded, disen- 
tangling himself from the mob of Httle girls. 

"I should like to show you where I sleep," Tonie said to Michael; 
and he, brushing his jacket, followed her submissively out of the room. 



379 



It was rather a formidable journey. Daise and Olleroyd had driven 
some of the invading children back to the street, but in the passage 
there were still half a dozen of the most tenacious, Reg from the horse- 
meat shop and Pete Roberts in his surgical boots, Maxie Aaronsohn 
and the two Wischnewskis with their baby sister, ripe, dirty and down- 
at-heel, insolent without ill-humour, avid without optimism for any 
scrap of drama or of food: they were all round Tonie the moment she 
stepped outside the door, shouting, ''Tonie, Tonie, lean an' boney, had 
her milk off the parsings pony," "Cor, ain't she the Captain's Cuddle, 
reel art silk, I reckon!" and "Git us a bit o' coike, To-nief" The foot 
of the stairs was blocked by the huddled and tearful form of Mrs 
Eustace, who wanted to explain that she had never thought of stealing 
the broken plate, while Daise, nervous and overwrought, kept saying 
acidly: "I tell you it's what I get my money for, looking after Mrs 
Jan's things!" "And that she does, by Paul 'n' Barnaby," Mr Brodie 
y^^as jeering from the landing, "an' puts the half of them in her own small 
tricksy tum!" But as nimbly as a hunter Tonie maintained her course, 
holding in her skirt, gently using one shoulder and then the other as 
bowsprit, saying, "Hullo, Pete! . . . Hullo, Maxie . . . Good-evening, 
Mr Brodie! . . ." with the hovering smile that was so like her mother's 
and yet completely her own. "Ollie, do go and comfort Mrs Eustace," 
she whispered to Olleroyd, who stood a'gainst the linen-cupboard in the 
top passage with the countenance of Lear, "and tell Mr Brodie if he 
goes on like that I won't bring him anything for his ferrets." Outside 
the front room she paused, smiling faintly, and beckoned Michael to 
listen to Raymond's mellifluous rumble: "I agree with you absolutely, 
my dear Mrs Ardree, I entirely agree!" Then with a certain air of con- 
spiracy she opened what looked like the door of a cupboard and led 
him up a narrow companion ladder, bidding him close the door behind 
them. 

"You'll have to sit here on the bed," she said. "That stool's wobbly 
— Grandfather made it. This room was quite tidy this morning, only I 
left it too late to change for the party and I had to just throw every- 
thing down. Gordon used to sleep in that hammock arrangement. He's 
been sent away to have his character put right or something, he was 
always getting bored and breaking windows and things. Do you feel 
too cold up here? It's as cold as an iceberg when there's snow — the snow 
comes in sometimes — and when it's hot you get baked alive. But it's 
very nice to have a room of your own, I think. Have you got a room of 



your own?" 



380 



''Well, I used to have. That was in my father's flat. Only I don't 
think we're going to live there any more. I'm living with a sort of aunt 
person at present. My mother's in hospital." 

"She isn't dying, is she?" 

"Oh, no. She has to go to hospital rather a lot." 

"That's Aunt Elizabeth, isn't it? She comes to tea sometimes. We 
don't go to her because Mummie thinks our clothes aren't right for 
the West End." 

"Women worry about clothes," he agreed. 

"Mummy worries about lots of things. So does Daddy, only he does 
it in a different way." 

"I like him very much. He's rather like the master who teaches us 
gym. To talk to, I mean." 

"He's perfect," Tonie said. "I think your mother's frightfully 
pretty." 

"Yes, she's rather perfect too." 

"Do you know what you're going to be yet?" 

"Not exactly. I had an idea I'd rather like to be an intellectual — 
or do you think that's atrociously feeble? Of course I haven't really got 
the brains anyway, I was right down to fourth in maths last term." 

"I should think it might be quite a good thing to be. I suppose 
you've never been in a room like this before?" 

"Well, I don't think I've been in any girl's room. I don't really 
know any girls. Of course you don't see any when you're at school." 

"I don't know many boys, except poor ones. I mean, poorer than 
we are. You can't get to know them really because they're always 
rushing madly about. I suppose you think girls are rather atrocious?" 

He reflected for a moment, examining the one before him, the dark 
hair and large eyes that were Hke her aunt Rosie's, the Romneyan deli- 
cacy of nose and cheeks which she had from her mother: this was 
veritably what 'girl' (as opposed to 'schoolgirl') meant to him, a mys- 
tery of softness and slenderness; and yet as she spoke to him, from so 
close-to, the settled strength in her face made her much less a girl 
than a person. He answered: 

"Well, no — you see, my mother was a girl, of course. That's 
rather what I go by. I say, it was frightfully pleasant of you to inter- 
fere with those Filliard people. They weren't hurting me really, you 
know. It was only a bit tedious." 

"Well, they were enjoying it. That's really why I biffed him." 

"I was wondering if he'd expect to be apologized to. I could do it, 

381 



myself — I could say you were scrapping on my side and came in a bit 
harder than you meant. I just thought, from the point of view of it 
being a party, and him being a person who's been invited — " 

"Well, not now, anyway — I'd rather you stayed here for a time. 
Unless you're feeling bored? No, I don't think he ought to be apologized 
to at all, he's such a skunk. If boys were all like that I'd never marry 
anybody." 

''Well, I really don't think they are. We've got some people at 
school who are very civilized indeed." 

"Yes, I thought there must be some of those." She swung up her 
legs to lie full length with chin on hands, feet in the air, and studied 
his face with quiet interest. "They'll probably turn out like Daddy." 

"Oh, yes, probably." If he was embarrassed by her scrutiny he did 
not show it at all. "I suppose you will have to marry sometime? I 
mean, judging from what happens in books. I read a certain amount of 
rather advanced books — I've got to take School Cert next year and 
they set Jane Austen and that sort of stuff. It looks in them as if girls 
always get over-persuaded in the end. Or do you think that's only in 
books?" 

"I think girls do, but I don't quite know how. I don't know if 
you know what happens when people are married?" 

"Well, more or less. Of course there are people at school who know, 
and they rather spread it about." 

"Well, in London here everybody knows it from more or less the 
time when they know anything at all. That's what strikes me about 
being married. All that would be simply atrocious with anybody you 
didn't really know." 

"Yes, I can see that." 

"In London," she pursued, "they make jokes all the time about 
kissing and that sort of thing. You get so used to it you hardly notice, 
only I think it's rather niffy." 

"Yes, it's bad taste." 

"There's a boy down the street who works in a barber's in Grange 
Road with beastly sneering eyes, he tried to kiss me once. Only Gor- 
don was coming along and he carved him up. He went at his legs and 
got him right down and hammered him. Gordon's rather formidable 
when he gets an idea like that." 

"Yes, he must be marvellous. So you haven't been kissed by any- 

382 



body — except your parents and people? Or perhaps I ought not to 
ask that." 

"Well, I haven't, as a matter of fact. I suppose I will be when I 
feel hke it. I'm not sure when that is, I suppose about sixteen. That's 
five more years. But then it would have to be somebody very — well, 
you know, intelligent and clean." 

"Yes, of course." 

"I suppose we ought to go down again, as I'm hostess." 

"Yes, I suppose we ought." 

Tonie wriggled round onto her back and let her feet slip down to 
the floor. She said: 

"I've enjoyed this conversation awfully." 

"It's been delightful," he answered. And then embarrassment came. 
"Oh, there was one thing I thought of asking you. I mean, it just 
occurred to me. You were saying about when you get to sixteen. Of 
course I shall be a bit more than nineteen then. I may be more civil- 
ized than I am now, or possibly not. I was only wondering if I could 
see you then, and then if you found you'd got to the time when a per- 
son does want to try what it's like — being embraced, I mean — you 
could see if I might possibly be the sort of person. Or do you think 
that's a feeble idea?" 

She considered it. "No," she said, "I think it's a sensible idea." 

The door below them clicked and Olleroyd's voice, burdened with 
the double weight of phlegm and secrecy, came up the ladder: "Tonie! 
Your dad's calling after you!" 

"Thank you. Oily! All right!" 

As they passed the bedroom door again they caught Duffy's voice 
". . . trouble about being in the army is that they pay you practically 
nothing . . ." 

"That's Guy's and Ned's mother," Tonie whispered, "but she's 
quite all right." 

Michael answered: "Yes, I know her. She is really a frightfully 
valuable person. You know, she was the one who introduced your 
mother to mine." 

"... Only it doesn't really matter as much as you'd think," said 
Duffy, "because you've simply got to spend a certain amount of money, 
because of the prestige of the regiment and all that sort of hocus-pocus, 
and if you've got to spend it, it doesn't make a fearful lot of difference 

383 



whether you've got any or not. I'm afraid I haven't expressed that 
frightfully well — Gruff always explains it much better than I do, he's 
been a P.R.I, and he's got a marvellous head for money matters. The 
way Gruff puts it is that every bob you spend on gin is one bob less 
for the bookies. I think it's really the same as what one used to learn 
about Ricardo's Principles. Or am I thinking of Mill on Liberty?" 

"I think it's Mill on the Floss, actually," Christine said, "but I 
do see exactly what you mean. It's like us. Everard says we're on the 
very verge of bankruptcy the whole time. So agitating." 

"The whole thing," said Armorel gently, "is to scale things down 
to what you've got. Even if it means not going about with people you've 
been used to going about with. What hurts is trying to keep up a fagade 
that you can't really afford." 

Duffy said: "Yes, that's exactly what I was trying to say. Rellie 
darling, I do wish I could put things as neatly as you do." 

"Does that mean," Raymond asked his cousin, "that if I could find 
j'^ou a decent, small house in somewhere like Putney or Ealing you 
wouldn't take it?" 

Armorel nodded. "Definitely not! S.E.i is where we fit, and I 
shouldn't dream of going anywhere else." 

"But you know," Georgina said timorously, "there are parts of 
Putney which are really quite nice." 

"Yes, Georgie darling, that's just the point. We can't afford to be 
quite nice, and I'm not going to try." 

"But how funny," said Duffy, "that's almost word for word what 
Elizabeth said about her and Michael the last time I saw her." 

"Elizabeth?" There was the faintest trace of gall in Armorel's 
smile. "I shouldn't have thought money was exactly one of Elizabeth's 
troubles." 

"Well, it is now. She doesn't know in the least how much Henry 
will — oh — oh, didn't you know?" 

A quietness fell upon the room like that of the moment when gun- 
fire is first heard by civilians in the path of an invasion. Duffy, redden- 
ing, threw a scared glance at Georgina. Jerked out of his normal som- 
nolence, Raymond began talking at high pressure about his recent visit 
to Kew Gardens. Armorel caught hold of Duffy's arm. 

"Oh, Duffy, I've just remembered. I wanted to show you that 
painting of wallflowers that Tonie did at school. I've got it over here." 
Her voice fell. "There isn't anything gone wrong, is there? Not with 
Elizabeth and Henry?" 

384 



Duffy said in a flurried undertone: "I thought you'd know, it's 
been in some of the papers. That man's an absolute devil incarnate, he's 
actually raked up that old business about Gordon Aquillard, and — " 

"Gordon? I don't quite—" 

'Well, it's not because of Michael exactly, because apparently they 
can't bring that into court for some reason, but they can bring in one 
time when it happened in London." She stopped short. "Rellie, you do 
— you did always know — ?" 

Georgina ceased pretending to listen to Raymond. She had heard 
no word of Duffy's, it was only instinct that made her lean sideways to 
look past Raymond's arm and, seeing Armorel silent and perfectly still, 
rise and go swiftly to her side. 

"Rellie! Rellie darling, are you feeling all right?" 

To Raymond, staring across the room with an old woman's curi- 
osity, it appeared that Armorel did not want to answer that question. 
But in a moment she had thrown off that curious hesitance. 

"What? Oh, yes, Georgie dear, perfectly all right." She turned 
to Duffy, "Yes, of course I always knew," and then to Georgina again. 
"I did think it was rather stuffy for a moment, these windows don't 
open the way they should, nothing really works in this awful house." 
(Just the usual thing, Raymond supposed. Stuffy? — he himself had 
been incommoded by a damnable draught. Had something gone slightly 
wrong with her voice, or was it merely a fiuffiness in his ears?) "You 
know Elizabeth Kinfowell — I must have told you about her, such a 
sweet woman. Duffy's been telling me — it's terribly sad — Duffy says 
she's having a wretched time in hospital. She's been ill, you know. Eliza- 
beth, I mean. I really should have done something. I must remember 
to send her some flowers." 

Well, that was over, or all but over, Raymond thought with satis- 
faction when he had packed Georgina into the front seat of his car 
and the Ardree grandparents into the back. True, he was not going to 
make the clean escape he had planned, for some fool had stuck a large 
saloon in front of his and the children sprawling right under his rear 
bumper made it impossible to reverse. But the sense of an appalling 
duty faithfully performed made him care-free to the point of heartiness. 
"Now you young people will have to move just a bit — otherwise you'll 
all get squashed into sausages . . . My dear," he said to Armorel, "I 
have never enjoyed an afternoon so much I " 

Internal and external parties had finally merged, a strange medley 

38s 



of satin frocks with the robuster dress of Weald Street moved in tem- 
pestuous eddies between house and pavement, swirling up and down the 
stairs and flooding all across the road. The mothers of Weald Street 
were massing upon the fringe, children were caught and hugged and 
immediately raced back into the throng, a few of the guests made posi- 
tive efforts to get away. "Thank-you so very much, Aunt Rellie, it was 
most kind of you to have me." "A most lovely party, darling." But 
the larger part of these civilities was lost in the unabating tumult of 
shouts and screams. The lustiest of all the yells came from some dis- 
tance up the street, where Guy FilHard lay on his back beneath a group 
of hostile residents whom Ned was furiously but vainly assaulting with 
feet and fists; and while old Janet Veal, still lively from her four- 
o'clock refresher, was bellowing unseemly comments from the upper 
window of 29 a barrel organ in front of 24 filled every gap in the uproar 
with the limping harmonies of Tea for Two. Appalling, Raymond 
thought, when this was only one of ten thousand streets, when all these 
squealing brats would turn into people demanding food and employ- 
ment, every one with a separate pride and loneliness, all falling in love 
and expecting what no lover could give, betraying and cheating each 
other, using the oldest, tested means to raise a new crop of miseries. 
Yet it appeared to him, just then, a friendly scene: if he could but 
forget what he had learnt about decent behaviour and respect for other 
people's belongings, about bacilli and hygiene in general, he might 
almost enjoy it himself. He stood patiently in the roadway, every inch 
a cultured suburban, tapping one foot to the organ's tune, giving way 
to shy and sentimental smiles, repeating, "Now come on, my dears, 
you'll be quite as happy on the pavement, come on, little girl — hell 
damn and blast the little beasts — come on, sonnie, just onto the pave- 
ment, come on, be good lads and lassies — O my God, are they all deaf 
or merely cracked! . . ." 

In the doorway, as fresh and soignee as when the party had begun, 
Armorel was serenely smiling. "It's been lovely to have you ... It was 
sweet of you to come . . . Good-bye, Tommy! . . . No, of course you 
didn't upset me, dear — what nonsense! — I'm only so terribly sorry for 
Elizabeth. . . . Good-bye, Marigold! . . . Yes, Elsie, you can tell your 
mother you've behaved very nicely . . . Good-bye, Arthur dear! . . ." 
A young man whose grey overcoat was as foreign to the street as Ray- 
mond's came up to speak to her. "Yes," she told him, "this is where 
Mr Ardree lives . . . Good-bye, Evangeline!" 

386 



And who the devil was that? Raymond wondered, catching sight 
of the newcomer with half a distracted eye and getting fussed as he 
always was by the unexpected: the fellow looked like a dun. He went 
back to the door, calling "Can I help, my dear?" and heard Armorel 
saying: 

"No, my husband was attending a lecture at University College 
last night, he came straight home from there." 

"Can I do anything?" Raymond foolishly repeated, and the young 
man turned to him. 

"Oh, good-afternoon, I think you may be able to help me. There 
was an accident last night at No. 3 Bidault's Place. A man named Em- 
pire — I think you know him — he fell from the top landing where the 
banister was broken." 

This was a little much for Raymond. To the nightmare of din and 
scrofulous children he had become acclimatized, accepting it as one of 
those preposterous realities in which he was sometimes strangely in- 
volved. But this: this young man popping up from nowhere — respect- 
able accent, clothes nearly as good as his own, the type they let into bis 
club nowadays — this almost-gentleman appearing out of the pavement 
like something at Maskelyne and Cook's and talking undiluted gib- 
berish — 

"Bidault's Empire?" he said. "What's that, a music-hall? My 
dear sir, do I look like a man who goes to music-halls! Or a man who 
goes round breaking banisters!" 

"This isn't my husband," Armorel said. "Here is my husband 
now." 

It was not the kind of young man which is embarrassed by small 
mistakes. He said pleasantly: "Oh, I'm sorry . . . You are Mr Ardree — 
Mr Gian Ardree? I believe you were at Number 3 Bidault's Place a 
little after nine o'clock last night?" 

Gian said: "Yes." 

"Well, I should be so glad if you could spare a few minutes to 
come to Damien Street with me — I've got my car here. Inspector Aud- 
win thinks you may be able to give him some helpful information about 
a man called Empire who died in St Thomas's Hospital this morning." 

*'Empire?" Gian said. "Charlie Empire? Died?" 

Armorel said, "But, Gian, you told me — " and stopped. "Well, if 
it's the pohce and they want some information, you'd better go." 

Gian said nothing more and did not look at anyone. Bareheaded, 

387 



and rather like one walking in his sleep, he followed the young man to 
the waiting car. 

Raymond said to Armorel, "I don't quite follow, it's rather curious, 
all this." 

And she answered: "There's always something curious in this part 
of the world . . . Good-bye again, Chrissie darling!" 

Tonie asked: "Mummie, where's Daddy going?" 

"I don't know." 

"Can I go too?" 

"No . . . Good-bye, Michael. Give my — tell Mother I hope she'll 
be better soon." 

To Raymond's dismay, Georgina had got out of his car again: 
astigmatic and lame with corns, she was picking her way through the 
excited children on the pavement. She came and caught hold of 
Armorel's hands. 

"Rellie dear, there's some trouble, isn't there? Darling, you must 
go in and sit down, you're looking so tired!" 

"No, Aunt Georgie, I'm perfectly all right . . . Oh, Duffy, you've 
got them at last. I'm so glad! Good-bye, my dear, it's been lovely hav- 
ing you. Good-bye, Guy! Good-bye, Ned." 

Then, however, she did let Georgina and Raymond take her up- 
stairs and settle her in an easy chair. 

Michael, lingering, whispered to Tonie: "There isn't anything 
wrong, is there?" 

"No, I don't suppose so." 

"You know I'd do anything in the world if there was — always." 

"That's frightfully dear of you, Michael." 
• But really there was nothing wrong that anyone could see; no 
change, at any rate, which Raymond could observe from the window 
upstairs. If Armorel's absence from the scene made little difference, 
Gian's made less: this city was too large and too well occupied to 
notice the coming and going of one or two people. The day, he 
thought, had weakened; there was gaslight showing at some of the 
windows; but the children tearing round his car in a crazy skirmish 
between Tommie Ede's gang and Leslie Hull's were still yelling at the 
tops of their voices, and as the organ jerked into an altered stride they 
started to bawl out the words. Ai want — ter be happy, but At — can't 

388 



be happy, till Ai've — mai dew happy too! The saloon in which the 
young man had arrived was already out of sight. 

"I can't think why he didn't tell me!" Armorel repeated. "Why 
do people hide things? Why couldn't he just say he'd been to Bidault's 
Place?" 

It was strange that Georgina's voice, squeezed so very small, still 
carried all its mellowed colour and warmth. "But, Rellie, Rellie my 
precious, I do feel certain of one thing — whatever happens you must 
go on loving him." 

The voice answering was numb with weariness. "Georgie, it only 
muddles things, everyone talking so much about love. How can you 
love people when they're trying to deceive you? You've got to start by 
understanding their minds." 

Mai dew happy too! moaned the voice of Weald Street. 

Raymond said miserably: "Their minds? But, Rellie, is there any 
hope of understanding that? Do we let ourselves be understood?" 

Yes, I thought, watching the light appear on the other side of 
the street, listening to that terribly familiar voice of Raymond's and 
searching the knotted undergrowth of his thoughts, we prisoners for 
ever demand from each other, in both understanding and love, a little 
more than any has to give. Subsisting on each other's wealth we get 
back only what we have given away ourselves; the air our spirits have 
exhaled comes round to be breathed again, and they must perish by 
degrees from asphyxia unless we can cut a vent towards some new 
supply. 

The hubbub was subsiding at last, letting the city's profounder 
voice roll back, its pulse be felt again. They heard distinctively a news- 
boy crying the Late Night Final in Bekkipore Lane, and intermittently, 
from over towards the river, the comforting drone of trams. 

". . .1 know there's something I haven't done. Tonic's school bill, 
I left it somewhere, I think it's somewhere in the kitchen, I think it 
must be under the clock . . . Yes, Georgie, really! I was only a bit tired, 
I'll manage perfectly now. I'm almost sure it's under the clock. You 
know, I can always manage things, I always get along all right by 
myself." 



389 



PART FOUR 



30 







NLY TWICE have I witnessed a trial at the Central Criminal 
Court. Although those two occasions were more than six years apart 
they have, at this distance, become so much superimposed that my 
memory is confused and I cannot be certain whether particular features 
belonged to one or the other, I remember them, in fact, almost as one 
protracted and miserable experience. Both cases were heard in Court I. 
Or were they? The Court looked exactly the same each time. I know I 
turned to the right at the top of the stairs. Well, I am almost sure 
about that. What I recall most clearly about both is getting a splitting 
head and taking an unprecedented number of aspirin tablets. 

No, I am not one of those who frequent law-courts for amuse- 
ment; and I do not visit them often for professional purposes, as some 
of my fellow-tradesmen do: I prefer to get someone else to give me 
any details I want. Fascinating, of course, when you get a good man 
in action, which is not invariable — as a rule counsel look to me like 
nothing more than carefully laundered little men who have been paid 
so much an hour to perform a part from a rather amateurish script and 
would be howled off the stage in any second-rate provincial theatre. 
With a good advocate, of course, it's quite different: even if he does 
not convince you of his sincerity you watch a highly subtle intelligence 
being used at full stretch and, in a curious way, concealing the fact that 
it is intelligence, disguising brilliance as that common sense which is 
what the jury looks for. Yes, I can almost lose myself in watching such 
virtuosity, as advanced amateurs of pianoforte technique will sometimes 
be so absorbed by a pianist's hands that they hardly hear what he is 



393 



playing. Yet I never wholly enjoy the sensation, and afterwards I feel 
a little unclean; because one is continuously — however faintly — aware 
that behind this ballet of dialectic, this bloodless decorum, reaHty is 
hiding. By ^reality' I mean men and women experiencing sensations and 
emotions — which is all that reality does mean. 

It's like being shown round the operating theatre in an up-to-date 
hospital. Nothing in the world so clean as that, so far removed from 
the grime and turbulence of life as most people know it: the immaculate 
walls and burnished chromium, silent mechanisms, lights pitched to 
cancel every shadow, the glass shield fixed to the gallery so that bacilli 
in the students' breath may not infect the sterilized air: and while the 
gentle voice of the theatre sister goes on explaining the marvels another 
voice whispers, 'Presently there will be a living body on this table, a 
blade will cut deeply through the tissues, blood will flow out and the 
body may die.' I was pleased, on both those visits to the Old Bailey, 
by the decency of the Court's interior design. I enjoyed the judge's 
decorative robes and the archaic tra-la-la which opened the proceedings, 
I liked the equally significant dowdiness of the jurors and the way His 
Lordship established friendly relations with them, the practised cour- 
tesies, the little private smiles between court officials and police. But 
wherever you are sitting you cannot forget that someone is in the dock, 
and even when it's as clear as day that the man is an unmitigated rogue 
you cannot stop thinking that something in his face resembles your 
own. It must be an abnormal person who does not murmur, 'There, 
but for the grace of God . . .' whenever he turns his head that way. 

I have tried to refresh my memory from newspaper cuttings — 
there are dozens of them which I have kept in two box-files — but it 
is strange how little they positively stir it. Well, perhaps not strange 
at all, since the writers had other objects. There are the sober reports, 
which aim at bringing all the untidiness of cross-examination into a 
familiar shape where the process of logic can be discerned; and there are 
'stories' (the right word, I think) from papers with much larger cir- 
culations, in which the writers' object was to extract and inflate such 
morsels of dramatic nourishment as they could detect in a scene wholly 
lacking in dramatic bravura. Of the second class, the treatment of 
Mrs Empire's appearance in the Court is an adequate example. Here, 
obviously enough, were the makings of a throb for the public pulse, 
and the cross-title writers have not neglected so plain a duty. Widow 
Faints in Court is the most temperate version I can find, Sickbed Cry 



394 



jor Justice is among the more imaginative. In the corresponding texts 
it is stated that 'Deathly pale, and anxiously watched by Harley Street 
specialists, the bereaved woman was carried into court by three hospital 
attendants/ that she was 'haggard and white-faced' and 'gave her evi- 
dence in a broken and trembling voice . . . twice losing consciousness 
and having to be revived.' In fact, as I do clearly remember, she came 
into court in an invalid chair pushed by a St John ambulance orderly; 
the court surgeon was present, and the court matron. She was not paler 
than anyone else would be who had lived indoors for years and 1 am 
fairly certain that she never fainted, though she did shut her eyes now 
and again from fatigue and possibly boredom. For the rest, she was 
sufficiently composed, and I fancied that on the whole she was rather 
enjoying the experience. Her evidence was somewhat difficult to hear — 
you do not expect an old, invalid woman to speak with the voice of a 
town crier or of Demosthenes — but it was unemotional and in my 
judgement remarkably precise. She described the quarrel that had taken 
place at her bedside between the dead man and the accused with sufficient 
assurance to give me, at any rate, a vivid picture of the scene, though 
she seemed unable to say what the quarrel was about. Cross-examined 
by Etchard Davies with gentleness but with no real lenience, she never 
wavered from her assertion that she had heard the accused leave the 
house, banging the door behind him, 'at least a minute' before Empire 
had left her room; and she gave an equally simple and convincing 
account of how she had heard the sound of her husband stumbling 
"like as if he'd caught his foot in some't'. Your Worship," then "a 
sort of a splitting noise," then a single cry and "a long time after, so 
it seem to me" the sound of his body crashing at the foot of the stairs. 
There was nothing of the scared and anguished widow in all this: it was 
like listening to any old cottage woman telling a parish visitor how her 
little boy has had a tumble. 

At the other end of the scale, I remember the surgeon's evidence 
in that case as being far less cut-and-dried than the more dignified re- 
porters have represented it. According to a highly reputable provincial 
paper, 'The Witness stated that in his judgement the injuries in the 
neck, which were recent injuries, could not have been caused by a fall 
alone.' Actually this witness, who was an elderly, nervous and admir- 
ably conscientious pathologist (the type that is a bugbear to all but 
the best counsel), refused to commit himself to any such dogmatism. 
His halting sentences, always slightly corrected before they were fin- 



395 



ished, were exceedingly difficult to follow; but the gist of his evidence 
was that the injuries taken with his own examination of the broken 
banister rail and experiments carried out with dummies, had enabled 
him to make a credible reconstruction of the way in which the body 
had fallen, and that if that reconstruction were accepted the injuries 
to the neck must have been caused by some other means than the fall. 
In this instance the reporter has done his best to represent the evidence 
within the space allowed him; obviously he could not describe the wit- 
ness's personality, his lisp, his fumbling, his corrections and caveats; 
and without that complete picture one is bound to get a wrong impres- 
sion of the force of the evidence given. 

The same thing applies to the more sedate reports of Swift's sum- 
ming up. The account in the Manchester Guardian, considered as a 
precis, could hardly have been bettered for skill or fairness. What it 
lacks — what any written account must lack — is Swift's tone of voice, 
the utter honesty which we saw in his face, in the very set of his shoul- 
ders, while he was talking to the jury as one very wise and experienced 
man would talk to a group of sensible ones: 

"... Now this is the question which I think each one of you 
ought to ask himself: 'Supposing I was in a very good job, a very 
responsible and interesting job, and supposing a certain man had got 
me sacked from a very dull and poorly paid job twelve years ago, 
twelve — years — ago, would I — for that reason — go to that man's house 
and take hold of him and throw him down from the top of the house 
to the bottom? If I were in my right mind, and perfectly sober, would 
I do that?' Because that is what the prosecution has suggested to you 
that this man did do, and the case for the Crown as far as I am able to 
understand it very largely depends on that suggestion. And then — lis- 
ten — there's another question which I think you should ask your- 
selves ..." 

Read the admirable Manchester Guardian report, which renders 
those sentences in oratio oblique but hardly condenses them, and you 
may still wonder why the jury arrived so quickly at their verdict. But 
if you had actually witnessed the change in his voice when he arrived 
at that passage, the significant pauses, the little, serious, confiding 
nods, you would not wonder at all. 

The reports I have kept of the more recent trial I attended, the 
one which took place early in 1939, seem still further removed from the 
reality, and I find it hard to believe that they are recounting an event 

396 



I saw and heard with my own senses. (It's rather like hearing the 
adulatory speech which someone makes when you give away prizes at 
a school; you find yourself wondering who it is that the man's describ- 
ing.) For the sake of interest I made a shorthand note of the cross- 
examination of Olleroyd, putting down what was said as nearly as pos- 
sible verbatim. Here is an extract: 



Mr St Anscar (schoolboy face, exaggerated Balliol voice to cover his 
nervousness; already exasperated) : Now can you tell us 
what sort of relations existed between the deceased and 
her husband in the week before her death? 

Witness: Uh? 

St Anscar repeats the question in exactly the same terms. 



Witness : 
St Anscar: 

Witness 



The Judge. 
Witness 
Clerk : 
Witness: 
St Anscar: 
Witness 



St Anscar 



Witness: 
St Anscar: 
Witness: 
St Anscar: 
Witness : 
St Anscar: 



His relations? 

No — er — ^what I mean is, how did they get on together, 

as far as you could observe? 

(wearing the expression of one sitting on a time bomb; 

wiping his face and brushing down his ragged moustache 

as if he feels it immodest to reveal his mouth to the 

Court): Well, I mean to say, I mean, I known him since 

he was nothink more than a nipper, see what I mean — 

Could you speak a little more clearly? 

(terrified): Uh? 

His Lordship wants you to speak more clearly. 

Uh? 

Could we have it a little louder! 

{in a voice so loud that it alarms the Court and himself) : 

I never done no speechmakink. (His voice falls instantly 

to its former piajiissimo .) Mean to say, he never treat her 

anything but all right, by what I see. Lordship. Been good 

to me, as you might say. Give me a home. Both of em, I 

mean. Terrible thing that was, I couldn't rightly credit — 

(slowly, clinging for dear life to his patience): Now listen, 

all I want you to tell us is whether the way they behaved 

to each other altered during the last few days of the 

deceased's Hfe? 

Deceased's wife? 

Life! L— I— F— E, life. 

Well, I mean to say — 

Did it or didn't it? 

Didn't what? 

Did it alter? 



397 



Witness {after severed false starts, atid after being soothed and 

skilfully prompted by the judge): Well, I mean, I reckon 
— seeing how he wasn't in the house, a lot of the time, 
well, I reckon they was much the Same as they always 
been, didn't seem no difference, not to me, only y'see, he 
never been what you might call a talkative man, nor her 
neither, come to that. Course, I never did see much of 
her relations, not but what an auntie she had come to see 
her, I do remember — 
The Judge: So what you're telling us, Mr OUeroyd, is that you didn't 
notice any change in the way the dead woman and her 
husband treated each other, or spoke to each other, during 
the last days of her Hfe? 
Witness: Ay, that's what I been saying to that gentleman there. 

Lordship. 

{Everyone relaxes, and one of the periodic fusses 
occurs. A juror goes out. The judge assumes the ex- 
pression of a taxi-driver waiting with his flag up. 
There are discreet whispers and the passing of papers. 
People hurry in and out. I have the fleeting notion 
that I have been attending a rehearsal and that the 
producer has gone out to take a telephone call.) 
St Anscar {a little later, exhibiting a 'Mexican^ knife) : Tell me, have 

you ever seen this before? 
Witness: Seen what? 

St Anscar: This. 

Witness: Well, I — ^well, you see how it is, it come on you with 

getting old, see — done a lot of close work in my time, as 
you might say — young chap at the shop said I could have 
them back in a week or ten days, see, them spectacles I 
give him — 
The Judge: Mr Stubbs, will you please pass the exhibit over to the 

witness so that he can examine it carefully. 
Witness {after examining the knife for a long time, as if he 

expects to find a secret drawer in it; disdainfully): Why, 
that been hangin' round for long enough. Over the chim- 
ney, that's where I always see that. 

{The public gallery stops coughing. The jury become 

a little more attentive.) 

St Anscar {palpably aware of drama; clearly, but with studied 

casualness) : You mean a chimney at Number 83, Mickett 

Lane? The sitting-room chimney, yes! Do you happen to 



398 



Witness: 
St Anscar: 
Witness: 



St Anscar 

Witness: 
The Judge. 
Witness: 



St Anscar: 
Witness: 



St Anscar: 

Witness: 
St Anscar: 
Witness: 

St Anscar 

Witness: 
St Anscar: 
Witness: 
St Anscar: 



The Judge. 



remember when you last saw it in its usual place above 
the chimney? 
Can't say I do. 
Recently? 

Well, I mean to say, there's always plenty of things along- 
side where that always has been. She use it as a place to 
put things, see, a lot of the chitties what come in, bills 
an' that — 

{with precision; using, as it were, his second barrel): 
Do you know who is the owner of that knife? 
Uh? 

Who does the knife belong to? 

Well, y'see — Lordship — well, o' course my memory don't 
hold as well as it did, I seen this knife, you see — well, I 
seen it a long time back, back in Contessa Street that 
was, time I lodged with Mr and Mrs Ardree. Well, I do 
remember he tell me — Mr Ardree — as how he got it off 
a Dutchman, or maybe a Norwegian, I can't rightly recol- 
lect, being as it's so long back — 

Just one minute — which Mr Ardree are you talking about? 
Why, that would be Mr Simon Ardree — he having been 
a sailor-man, see, it's natural he get about rubbing shoul- 
ders with all sorts, as you might say — 
Yes, yes, but this Simon Ardree, what relation was he to 
Gian Ardree? 

Well, that would be his father. 
Simon was Gian's father? 
Well, sir, still is, as far as I know. 

{A nervous titter somewhere, and "Quiet there!") 
{patiently) : And Simon Ardree was at one time the owner 
of the knife? 
That's right. 

And did he within your knowledge give it to anyone else? 
Uh? 

Do you remember him making a present of it to anyone 
else? Did he ever say to anyone, "Here's a present for 
you, you can keep this"? 

{The witness mumbles something with his hand in 

front of his mouth.) 
Mr Olleroyd, will you please try to speak clearly. Some 
of us in this court are rather elderly and we don't hear 
very well. Will you just speak slowly and as clearly as 



399 



you possibly can. Perhaps you'll repeat your question, 
Mr St Anscar. 
St Anscar: Do you remember Simon Ardree making a present of the 

knife to somebody else? 
Witness (suddenly letting out a nervous laugh) : Well, now, did he 

or didn't he, that's just what no one couldn't rightly 
decide! 
St Anscar: I really must ask you to control yourself! I asked you 
a very simple question. 

(The witness is petrified, and it looks to me as if he 
is going to weep. He drags out his enormous parti- 
coloured handkerchief and wipes his face and neck as 
if he had just finished shaving. Clutching fiercely at 
the edge of the box he fidgets and twists like a child 
caught stealing apples. The spectacle of so old a man 
— and one not without an elephantine dignity of his 
own — in so abject a condition infects the Court with 
a general nervousness. There are shuffling and cough- 
ing, and a woman is led out from the public gallery.) 
The Judge (witji extreme gentleness — but with a quick, dirty look 
toward St Anscar): Just take your time, Mr Olleroyd! 
No need to get flustered — you've done very well so far, 
very well indeed. 
Witness (abruptly, after a further period of silence): Lordship. 

It wasn't any business of mine, d'you see — I've been a 
friend of the family these twenty year or more, very kind 
they've been to me, taking it all the way round as you 
might say, it wouldn't be any business of mine to put in 
on what can't be agreed between themselves. Well, now, 
take what the trouble was about this knife. Mr Ardree, 
you see — Mr Simon Ardree — he look up and say "Why, 
that's my knife you got up there!" see, and Mr Gian 
Ardree, he says, "Go on, Dad!" he says, "you give me 
that a long time back!" he says. 
St Anscar: When did all this happen? 

Witness: Well, I couldn't rightly say. Round about Christmas, that 

would be. Yes, well now, Christmas Day it might be, 
seeing how Mr Simon Ardree come along for his Christmas 
dinner, and then him sitting in the chair there, with just 
a small glass of port wine they got for him, and him 
lookink up over the chimney — 
St Anscar: Well, then, you think it definitely was Christmas Day? 
Witness: That's what I was saying. 



400 



And so on. . . . 

The more exuberant dailies found material suited to their needs 
in that small-time interchange. I find that 'Family friend weeps in 
Box' and that there is some dark significance in a 'Knife of Foreign 
Origin'. Olleroyd's fumbHngs and mumblings are described as 'Fur- 
rier's Dramatic Evidence', he is reported to have said in moments 
described as 'tense' and 'before a hushed Court' that 'I owe the 
Ardrees everything/ that the knife, 'Most Treasured Possession of 
Dead Woman,' was 'Father's Christmas Gift to Son.' Working on 
opposite principles, the Morning Post summarizes the passage thus: 

'Herbert Olleroyd, a retired tailor, gave evidence that friendly rela- 
tions had existed between the dead woman and her husband up to the 
time of her death. He recognized the knife as one which had been kept 
as an ornament in the house where the tragedy occurred.' 

I do not see how anyone could quarrel, except pedantically, with 
this last summary. It gives as concisely as possible the relevant facts 
which emerged: what it omits is immaterial, or almost immaterial to the 
issue. I only suggest that this illustrates how small a part of human 
experience is contained in what are commonly accepted as 'facts'. 
(When one says 'the fact of the matter is . . .' one only means, as a 
rule, 'the operative element in the situation is . . .') My transcript of 
the evidence can be examined in exactly the same way, and if I judged 
the Morning Post account to be omissive so I should judge my own. I 
have given with almost photographic accuracy what Olleroyd said. I 
have left out almost the whole of what he meant, although any atten- 
tive observer might have read a great part of it in the aspect of the 
man himself, in the hundred nuances of expression and gesture which 
even a painter of genius could only hope to convey by a long series of 
portraits made in succeeding moments. Here was an antiquated speci- 
men of humankind, long since run to seed in body and reason. Here 
also was an honest man. He had read the Oath not in the formal or 
the stumbling, scared fashion of most witnesses but with great delibera- 
tion. I am certain that he was determined to tell the whole of the truth, 
as he understood it, despite what must have appeared to him the delib- 
erate barracking of a clever young gent in fancy headgear. It did not 
occur to him that the Court really required only a particular kind of 
truth, or a limited portion of it: 'truth' for him meant everything he 
knew about the subject under discussion, and all the small details float- 



401 



ing into his sluggish memory, odd sentences he had overheard, thoughts 
which had passed through his mind at the moment when he heard them, 
seemed to him to be part of its essence. One read that in the movement 
of what are called 'the poker veins'; one saw it in the agitation of his 
flabby hands, in his sniffing and mouthing and moustache-wiping, the 
dullness drifting through his irises as clouds pass across the April sky. 
I experienced no small sympathy with St Anscar; he had the limits of 
the Court's patience to reckon with, and no case would ever be brought 
to a conclusion if witnesses who were asked if they had ever been to 
Brighton were allowed to give a full account of all the days when they 
hadn't. All but a hundredth, perhaps, of what Olleroyd wanted to tell 
the Court was of no use to the Court whatever. And yet I felt that what 
he was trying to say (and could not have expressed in a hundred years) 
was not without its intrinsic value. In a depressingly unreal milieu where 
all the rest were on Sabbath behaviour, wearing so to say the uniform of 
their functions, correct and disinterested and a trifle bored, he in his 
undisguised simplicity made us think of values outside the narrow 
cognizance of this tribunal. His self-contradictions seemed to be sym- 
bolic of the conflict of human purposes, his sprawling body and recalci- 
trant clothes a demonstration of men's non-conformity with the tidy 
processes of formal reasoning. Here, in place of 'the thoroughfare to 
which m'learned friend has referred' was Mickett Lane itself, rancid 
and seedy but exhaling a warm breath, betraying through chinks in its 
commonplace exterior a huge entanglement of vital privacies. Those 
others, I thought at the time, represent the mechanics of morality, 
working smoothly enough. This decrepit creature reminds us of what 
morality is about. 

Yes, my picture of Olleroyd sprawling over the front of the box, 
damp and husky and curiously immense in relation to his surroundings, 
has remained sharp enough. And I remember very clearly what the 
elderly judge looked like — so different from Swift in appearance and 
behaviour. A man called Cuddish, this was, whose career they told me 
had been an unusual one and who was best known for his work in 
earlier years as a Metropolitan magistrate. Where Swift's manner had 
been direct, man-of-the-world, this judge's was oblique and philosophi- 
cal. I recall how, during his summing-up, his eyes constantly strayed 
away from the jury and found a resting place somewhere above the 
prisoner's head. He seemed, then, to be thinking aloud; I even had 
the impression that he was still feeling his way with perceptive caution 
towards his own conclusions. (Absurdly, I can remember scarcely a 



402 



word he said, and should have to go to the Times report for it.) Not, I 
imagine, a good performance considered forensically: it is a judge's 
business, T suppose, to simplify arguments for the unlearned, not to 
lead them through a maze of half-tones. But again, my own feeling was 
one of peculiar gratitude; not only for the spontaneous pleasure of 
watching so delicate a mind at work, but because he appeared to be 
aware of a duty outreaching his immediate functions, an obligation 
towards truth itself. As the case went on I had felt a kind of weariness 
and desperation because, however good the intentions of these people, 
the actualities of human behaviour as I knew it seemed to be perishing 
beneath their expert vivisection. As one witness followed another, laconic 
or voluble, embarrassed or over-confident, honest within the ambit of 
their understanding, it had seemed to me that the machine which cut 
away the dead wood of their evidence was also destroying the living 
tree. Cuddish, if my impression was right, realized this: however little 
it concerned him as a lawyer, he knew that men's motives are not com- 
posed of a single strand, that between willing and not willing the divid- 
ing line is broad enough itself to be many times divided. To detect that 
recognition in his slow and careful sentences eased a little my uncom- 
fortable sense of taking part in a superfluous and sterile parade. 

But mostly it is the insignificant and often ridiculous things which 
memory retains. The man beside me had a pencil sharpener which he 
put on the shelf in front of him — I suppose it was a life-long habit — 
and at least three times he knocked it on to the floor with his wrist: I 
remember the large, neat darn which showed in the seat of his trousers 
when he dived like the ducks in St James's Park to retrieve it, and the 
wounded look in his eyes each time he returned to the surface. I remem- 
ber a witness in a spotted scarf, a George Belcher figure, who kept 
saying as if it were a lucky formula ^Do it m'self — any day! ' and always 
followed this remark with a bustling sniff which made the judge glance 
anxiously over his spectacles. Then there was a woman juror with a 
head like a Toby jug who spent her time whispering to the sallow, city- 
faced man who sat beside her refusing to take the smallest notice; and 
another juror, a little man of the back-door salesman type who sat 
slightly apart from the rest with his hands in his trouser pockets, 
whistling softly between his teeth and proclaiming with his detached, 
contemptuous eyes that none of these people were going to influence 
hh7t. Did he belong to the first or the second of those two trials? It does 
not matter, and yet I am vexed that my memory will not work more 
tidily. Why should I remember the frivolous circumstance that on the 



403 



first occasion I was wearing a brown suit and was worried because the 
waistcoat was rather ostentatiously cut? What was there worth recalHng 
in a female witness's ponderous remark, "Two o'clock it was, as sure as 
sure, I heard the door bang, only you know how it is with clocks!"? 
Many such snippets return as vividly as if I were playing over a phono- 
graphic recording, but I cannot find the faces to which they should be 
attached; and those which belong to the second trial do not help me in 
trying to recover precisely the main current of my sensations when I 
heard them, the curious feeling that some previous experience of my 
own was being symbolically enacted before me, that the playing was 
desperately amateurish and the emphasis all wrong. It was not a mere 
breeze fluttering the surface of the mind, that nightmare sense of frus- 
tration ; several times it was almost powerful enough to bring me to my 
feet. I wanted to call out, "Can you wait a little, please, there's some- 
one else who ought to be heard, she's not so far away, I'm certain she 
can be got at somehow!" But the witness I wanted to summon was not 
to be brought within that court's jurisdiction. 

The foremen of both juries stand before me stereoscopically : the 
one a cosy figure with a face that shone like a wet pebble, owner of a 
small drapery perhaps, pathetically anxious to perform his office without 
discredit; the other a sad and scholarly man who had bought his dark 
suit off the peg a long time before and who looked as if all life's chances 
had passed him by while he was discussing their possible flaws. It did 
not seem possible that either of those men was going to utter a sentence 
of such supreme importance to the man in the dock; and when the 
moment came for it, on both occasions, the artificiality which all these 
proceedings wore for me reached its highest point. This, I felt, is a 
crude sketch with understudies put in to read the lines until the princi- 
pals arrive. On each occasion some minutes had passed, and I had the 
hubbub of the street about me, before I said to myself, 'Yes, it has 
actually happened, that was the thing itself.' 

No one, I think, was at all doubtful how the shiny little draper 
would answer when the question was put to him: with Swift's analysis 
of the case for the Crown almost literally echoing in their ears, only a 
jury of certified lunatics could have reached a decision different from 
the one he had to announce. In the second case, according to my friend 
Paulet Shield who was present, there was a measure of uncertainty 
among the cognoscenti: they felt that the very length of time which 
the judge had devoted to examining every apparent weakness in the 



404 



prosecution's arguments might have given the jury a wrong impression 
of what those arguments were worth. The time which the jury took to 
reach their verdict goes some way to support that view. But during their 
long absence there was never, I beheve, any doubt in the depth of my 
own mind v^^hat the man in the shabby black suit would say when they 
returned. 

By that I do not mean that I felt no tension when the question was 
put: a man must have pecuhar or practised nerves who avoids that. And 
the moment of waiting for the reply, which must always seem a long 
one, was almost intolerably protracted by a special circumstance. The 
foreman proved to have an impediment in his speech. 

The judge, glancing towards him in a curiously shy fashion (as 
I thought), asked the familiar question in the quiet voice of one busi- 
ness man to another: "Do you find the prisoner Guilty, or Not Guilty?" 
The foreman opened his mouth and it stayed open as if a fish-bone were 
stuck in it. Nothing came out. 

I saw somebody's fingers doing a slow, stiff dance on the desk in 
front of him, like the fingers I had once seen of a man whose head had 
been blown clean off. A woman in the jury buried her face and at the 
back of the Court someone tittered. The judge, of course, betrayed no 
embarrassment whatever: he wore the calm of certainty, his part was 
virtually finished. Only, out of intrinsic courtesy, his eyes turned away 
from the foreman's struggling face, and in doing so met the prisoner's. 

My glance turned that way as well, though not very willingly; 
and then it appeared to me that there were two people, not only one, 
who were quite untouched by the small wave of hysteria passing through 
the Court. That face, the prisoner's, was motionless; not with the still- 
ness of stupor but with Promethean patience. There are people who 
make a livelihood by standing on a platform twice or more every day 
and having a cigarette knocked from their lips by an artist with a stock- 
whip; they know that once in a way the artist will not be in perfect 
form, and the whip-end which is like a white-hot needle will touch 
their mouth or cheek. Those people have a peculiar, professional face; 
and that was the face I looked at now. One other thing I saw, a glance 
which passed between the prisoner and the judge, swift as the touch of 
a bird's wing upon the surface of a stream, a look of surprise and recog- 
nition, almost of understanding. Just then, the foreman managed to 
clear his tongue and give the word for which everyone was waiting. 

In the bustle on the stairs, where people were hurrying to get to 
another court, giving laconic instructions to their clerks, exchanging 



405 



telephone numbers and names of restaurants, I caught snatches of sub- 
voiced opinion. 

". . . . wuffy. Really too old for the job, you know, and not the 
right sort of experience." 

"No, I think that's entirely misplaced sentimentality. All my feel- 
ings are with the woman . . ." 

"... previous cases. It happens like that, you see. A fellow has 
it in the blood, they treat him leniently and he just comes back and 
back." 

"You call it leniency — prison for a mere schoolboy?" 

"It's the birch you want for a type like that." 

A man with the beauty of scholarship in his eyes was talking in a 
soft, perfectly modulated voice: ". . .a fairly commonplace psychologi- 
cal pattern. In the first stage you get the ordinary social repressions, 
using that term in a popular rather than a strictly scientific sense. Then 
a system of escape is built up, but the escape is illusory. The subject 
is first given the impression that all his inward hungers have been satis- 
fied, but there's always a residue of discontent to remind him that he 
is not a monarch, only a shabby little man in royal clothes. That dis- 
content operates like a drill, boring slowly into the surface crust. There 
comes a moment when it gets right through, and then the dormant vol- 
cano goes off with a bang ..." 

But those voices were like the babel which people let spill out of 
wireless sets, an intrusion which scratched the surface of my mind no 
more deeply than the dreary pretentiousness of the building itself. Just 
then I was not much interested in the categories to which men and 
women are shrewdly assigned by apprentices in moral anthropology. 
It is entirely correct and necessary, I was thinking, this performance 
we have just been through: for by means of recognized assumptions 
it operates a mechanism ably designed to limit the hurt that people can 
do to one another. More than that, it picks up incidents from people's 
lives and represents them in a moral diagram, bold, ingeniously drawn, 
and simple enough for everyone to understand. 

And after all, what reason was there to reanimate the past! Some 
of it pursues us; the rest, whatever theories men may hold on the nature 
of time, cannot be re-lived or changed, and if we had failed in wisdom 
there was nothing we could do about it now. But finding myself in 
Ludgate Hill, crossing over towards the river with the vague notion of 

406 



seeking fresh air and a chemist's shop, I decided abruptly to make for 
home and go through the old letters once again. 

For to me, I thought, the past has not died, it lives within the 
present and only the moment in which I stand has not yet come alive. 
However painfully, I must go on searching through the evidence, the 
real evidence, scratching about for crumbs of recollection which would 
fill the gaps, wondering if at any point the course of events could have 
been altered, trying and trying to settle finally how much of the re- 
sponsibility belonged to me. A bus that pulled up beside me was going 
over the bridge and on towards the Elephant; on a fresh impulse I 
went aboard, meaning to visit Weald Street and then perhaps screw my- 
self to have one more look at Mickett Lane. The house itself with the 
mean doorway and ugly windows, the street's particular smell, might 
help to realize what felt just then like the returning impression of a vivid 
dream. If only the picture could be fully lit I might perceive some 
meaning beneath the rags and tatters which the Court had scraped 
together and treated as entirety; and then, as if that history had ceased 
to be part of my own, I might faintly hope to wrap it up and let it rest. 



31 







N THE loth of October 1938 Raymond had received a parcel 
posted (unregistered) at North Walsham. It contained a bundle of 
letters and a covering note from someone who, signing herself 'Daphne 
Scobaird', explained that 

You may possibly remember me by my maiden name of Steaben, 
I had the pleasure of meeting you at Armorel's wedding, of course 
that was centuries ago, only I do remember you quite clearly, and 
being so terribly thrilled to meet you. Of course I was really only 
a girl then and meeting someone like you and you being a cousin 
of Rellie's gave me a terrific thrill. 

The thrill had lasted in the muscles of her hand, Raymond sup- 
posed, for the writing at that point assumed the semblance of a baro- 
graph recording. Where it re-emerged into legibility, he read: 

407 



. . . husband thinks it very feminine and foolish to have kept them 
like that, only we did know each other so fearfully well at Hilda 
Abbess's — even there I realized that she was a most specially won- 
derful person, she had a mind that could see into things and ideas 
in a way no one else's I've ever known could, and she was so 
absolutely honest, in the real sense, not just the bourgeois one — 
and naturally when you've known somebody as long as that you 
do feel about her differently to what you do of my other friends, 
especially when I feel that even when we were both married there 
were things she would tell me which she couldn't quite tell anybody 
else. I suppose there are some people who have a sort of gift for 
understanding people and naturally people confide in them a good 
deal, and then of course our views on some of the most important 
things in Life were always very much the same. What has been 
worrying me is the idea that perhaps somebody official ought to see 
these letters because there may be something in them which would 
be helpful to the Investigations. And of course Jack thinks that 
old letters only clutter up the house and I ought to get rid of them, 
in fact he did actually say Oh, do chuck all that b — b-ph in the 
bin. Of course Jack hasn't read them at all, they've always been in 
the drawer where I keep a lot of my old things. Only there's such a 
lot of what you might call private things in them that naturally I 
can't bear the idea of sending them to some total stranger (I do 
think that things can have a sort of sacredness, don't you — not in 
any superstitious sense, I don't mean) and so I had a bright idea 
and I thought as you were Armorel's cousin and she always told 
me how fond she was of you and at the same time respecting you 
most tremendously and as you probably know all sorts of govern- 
ment and legal sort of people I thought possibly you might go 
through them all and see what you decide ought to be done and 
possibly do it. I do hope you won't think this is an intrusion or 
anything, it's so very hard to put on paper what one really feels 
and of course Jack doesn't like me to spend an awful lot of my 
time writing ... 

The paper smelt of chypre. Having composed a correct reply 
Raymond put the letter away in a cupboard with an airtight door. 

He was oddly reluctant to untie the ribbon in which Armorel's 
letters were bound. He, of all men, did not lack the housemaid's kind 
of curiosity, but the 'sort of sacredness' to which Mrs Scobaird had 
referred had equal power over his own own finical sensibilities. Curiosity 
won: and when he had folded the ribbon and stored it in the drawer 



408 



he kept for such things, he found that he had forty or fifty letters to 
examine, containing almost as many thousand words. Late that evening 
he set to work. 

Where nature withholds the greater gifts of the mind she often 
fills their place with a minor talent and major passion for being me- 
thodical. Although he sighed and breathed heavily through his nose, 
Raymond was in truth pleased to discover that the letters were all 
muddled up and that he had first of all to put them in date order. Even 
the laborious task of finding where stray pages belonged gave him a 
gentle satisfaction, such as short-legged and pot-bellied men obtain 
from running round the Park and imagining themselves 'in training'. 
The task of reading was less agreeable; not, as he had feared, because 
the contents of the letters were too disturbing but because they were not 
disturbing enough. One after another was devoted to matters in which 
he was totally uninterested or which he could not hope to comprehend. 
But since he was incapable of skipping (he was said to be the only man 
alive who read Hansard from cover to cover every day) he plodded 
conscientiously through the reminiscences of Hilda Abbess friendships, 
through accounts of Tonie bringing up her feeds, of shops in Camber- 
well which had failed to produce Size Fours for Gordon, of a man who 
had come to clear the drain outside the kitchen and made a competent 
job of it but was 'not the sort of man I like to have doing things — you 
will know exactly what I mean.' There were pages about the minutiae 
of domestic economy, long and repetitive accounts of a conflict with the 
headmistress of Tonie's school, all the paraphernalia, small in weight 
but vast in bulk, which covers the human mind's ground floor; and 
there were letters almost entirely devoted to what Mrs Scobaird must 
have meant by 'views on the most important things in Life', a tumbling 
sea of abstract nouns in which Raymond rightly thought himself too 
little a philosopher to swim. He read every fine. When anything seemed 
to him of interest he marked it; not, as another might have done, by a 
pencil stroke in the margin but with a ruler and coloured inks. Where 
the name of Gordon Aquillard, Trevon Grist or Ed Hug^ happened to 
occur he put a green asterisk above it, names of women were similarly 
marked with violet, and a number of passages which in some vague 
fashion he judged to be of possible importance were given a red under- 
line. The contentment yielded by that occupation was enough to redress 
the boredom in most of what he was reading; for the exercise of neat- 
ness delighted him, and he was fond of colour. He might — as he often 



409 



said — have been a painter, had he possessed some talent for design and 
the ability to handle a brush. 

Especially, with plenty of blotting-paper and new nibs handy, he 
liked ruling lines in red. 

*. . . Daise like all her kind enjoys making the worst of a bad job, 
and she can't understand how I can stay cheerful. It's no use explain- 
ing to her. The fact is that I am cheerful because I have no doubt what- 
ever about the outcome of this ridiculous case. I know that magistrates 
make mistakes, but proper judges don't make them often, and if you 
knew Gian as I do you would realize that he could not possibly have 
had anything to do with Empire's death — which was caused by a simple 
accident. I don't say that just because I am his wife, nothing is sillier 
than the "my man can't possibly be wrong" attitude. Of course when 
he was younger he was quick-tempered, and didn't realize how much 
damage he could do with his fists, but he's an entirely different person 
to what he was in those days. (Or do people really think that a wife's 
influence counts for nothing at all!) He did have a quarrel with Em- 
pire — he had never really forgiven him for getting him sacked — men 
have a special amour propre which works like that — and the quarrel did 
take place very shortly before the accident, but to argue from that that 
the quarrel led up to the poor fellow's death is what they call in logic 
post hoc ergo propter hoc: and no judge worth anything would let a 
jury be convinced by such an obvious fallacy as that. What I mean to 
say is that the police are bringing up nothing against Gian except 
circumstantial ^evidence', and that 'evidence' just won't hold water. So 
I am keeping perfectly calm. My one fear is that Gian will cut a poor 
figure in the Court, because his upbringing has made him scared of 
every sort of official. Still, that can't be helped. 

'Of course all this goes to show that when people are secretive it 
only leads to trouble. You realize, of course, that I'm telHng you this 
in the strictest confidence. I have never quite made Gian realize that 
he would do best to bring all his worries to me. It's the masculine pride 
again which prevents him, obviously he felt that if he told me his feel- 
ings about Empire I might misunderstand and possibly laugh at him — 
though in reality I would never dream of laughing at him about any- 
thing, even when he utters the most absurdly old-fashioned sentiments. 
All this led to my telling one of these wretched C.I.D. people that 
Gian hadn't been anywhere near Bidault's Place on the night when 



410 



Empire got killed, and that may be said to have started the whole 
trouble — but since Gian had made out to me that he had been some- 
where quite different I can hardly be blamed for that, can I? I just hope 
that when this business is over the dear man will have realized that 
it's in his true interest to confide in me over everything . . .' 

^ . . She has been very kind indeed — and especially good to Tonie. 
I wish you knew her. She is the sweetest of women, and her boy Michael 
is charming, with those quiet, beautiful manners that they do instil — 
if perhaps at the cost of destroying some individuality — at very ex- 
pensive schools. It gives me great joy that she should have him as some 
consolation for all that she has been through. There is just one unfortu- 
nate thing — I wouldn't breathe this to anyone but you — I don't feel 
that I can absolutely trust him. You will understand what I mean when 
I say that this is largely a matter of instinct — a particular instinct one 
has which isn't often wrong. I don't mean that I like the boy any the 
less for it. It's stupid and reactionary to blame people, especially chil- 
dren, for shortcomings which are no fault of their own, and a child is 
by nature straightforward or he is not. But it does make it more diffi- 
cult to deal with a boy when you know that his personal charm is used, 
if ever so slightly, as a cover for things below the surface. He is not 
the sort who would tell a deliberate lie, I'm sure of that. But he is the 
kind who just keeps back things that he finds it inconvenient to talk 
about. For instance, I fancy he has friends that his mother knows noth- 
ing about. I feel a certain responsibility over this, because Elizabeth's 
very virtues, her sweetness and lovability, make her not perhaps in 
every way the ideal mother for a boy whose good looks and winning 
ways expose him to special dangers. She is rather one of those who 
would say (naturally, when you think how much he means to her) 
"Well, as long as he's happy — !" because such people, who give the 
world so much happiness by their own beauty and kindliness, sometimes 
forget that there are times when life demands something more of us 
than to be happy . . .' 

^ . . Last night I made Cornish patties, which Gian loves, and after- 
wards I had a long talk with him about Gordon — such a cosy talk, all 
the odd people who officially or unofficially more-or-less live in this 
house as they did at Weald Street were out for once, and Tonie was so 
tired after the school excursion to Kew that she was fast asleep. I 



411 



couldn't explain this, but then I don't need to explain it to you — you 
have your Jack, and so you know what it's like — the wonderful feeling 
when a man is rather tired and comfortable and very quiet, with his 
strength and masculinity all in repose, and you know that this being 
who is powerful enough almost to break you in two with one hand be- 
longs absolutely and entirely to you. And oh his patience is so touching 
at times! Last night it was wonderful. I knew he could not really follow 
what I was saying, although I expressed it in the most simple language 
I could find, and put in some funny bits I'd thought of to make it 
easier (he loves jokes, though usually only the Lambeth kind of joke) 
— and yet he listened so attentively, with hardly a single interruption, 
and I could see he really was trying to make his own mind clear instead 
of just repeating the few stock sentences which he has for his own 
'views', as he does sometimes when he's tired and worried. You know, 
I do think — although it may sound heartless to say so — that the ordeal 
he went through over that trial has been in some sort of way a good 
thing for him. It has made him less obstinate — no, that's not the word 
— I mean less inclined to think that because he's a man and I'm a woman 
his way of looking at things must be superior to mine. But oh how I 
do wish at times that he had a little more in the way of background. 
It's not just lack of education in the ordinary sense — I have done a 
good deal myself to overcome that — it's a complete blindness to pro- 
portion, a total inability to step over from one field of thought into 
another. Of course I shouldn't dream of trying to explain Gustav 
Liedke-Urban's theories to him in detail, he just hasn't the head for 
anything like that. All I am trying to do is to make him understand 
that emotion is the great misleading force, that every time reason starts 
to operate in the planning of someone's Hfe, emotion — particularly what 
may be roughly called religious emotion — tries to interfere and get 
things back into the old muddle; just as, when someone plans a beauti- 
ful avenue with shady walks beside it, there will always be someone to 
make a fuss because it means the removal of one dear little old cottage. 
The main question is whether Gordon should come back here for a short 
period before he goes on to the agricultural school, which is Stage Beta 
in what Gustav calls his Theorem of Reclamation. Naturally Gian wants 
him to, and naturally so do I, in a sentimental sense — no mother could 
long to see her boy more than I do. But Gustav has pointed out — with 
that marvellous clearness of his — that it would be like washing clothes 
and then throwing them on the ground before hanging them out to dry. 



412 



Gordon would meet all his old Weald Street friends, or other friends 
of the same kind, Gian would spoil him, and by the time he got to 
Quarries Waste all the good he had gained from Peter Synvenor's in- 
fluence would have been undone. That's what I just can't make Gian 
understand, and of course he can't at all appreciate the brilliance of 
Gustav's mind on these matters, but I think he does realize in his rather 
slow-moving mind that what I decide will work out best in the end — 
although that's always a hard thing for a man to admit. Sometimes I 
wish I hadn't the sympathy I have with Gian, I mean, the power to 
understand exactly how he is thinking. 

'I don't know if it has ever struck you that motherhood is es- 
sentially a lonely business. Because of her special and supremely im- 
portant function, evolution has given the mother a mind with special 
powers of interpretation, so that she can guide and educate her chil- 
dren's mental life as well as their bodily growth. But only she herself 
fully realizes that she has this power, and others with the best intentions 
are constantly trying to neutralize its effects by exerting influences of 
their own. One is sometimes almost frightened by the magnitude of one's 
responsibility. Gustav is a great comfort to me. He, with his extraor- 
dinary genius, does perceive both what is latent in me and to what 
interferences it is subject. In all our consultations over Gordon he has 
taken infinite pains to find the direction of my own ideas (as he puts it, 
there must be a faster-source' in all such planning, and where the 
mother is of sufficient intelligence that master-source can best be found 
in her) and his own contribution is merely to systematize my concep- 
tions and suggest scientifically the channels through which they can 
be executed. He has one saying which I find so very helpful — " 'Love' 
means the concentration upon a particular personality of a schooled 
intelligence." How marvellously that clarifies a wife's and a mother's 
duties. And how much less would the world suffer from the efi"ects of 
religious and other cloudy emotions if only that truth could be brought 
home to everyone!' 

It was on the day after he had marked those passages that Ray- 
mond heard from L. C. Sture. (According to his custom, he made a note 
on the top of the letter, 'Received ii/0ct/3S'.) Sture wrote: 

I write D/0, that is to say, partly as an old friend and partly as 
a glorified policeman; in both personalities reluctantly; but however 
much you dislike receiving such a letter as this you know me well 
enough, I think, not to resent it. 



413 



The newspaper reports, fantastic as most of them appear, are 
at least correct in their implication that there are difficulties in re- 
gard to the Mickett Lane case. It is my business, in the interests 
of justice, to make sure that all the facts are known, whether or 
not some of those facts immediately appear to be relevant. 

It is not impossible that you may possess letters written by 
Mrs Gian Ardree — you are, I believe, quite closely related — which 
would throw some light upon the general circumstances of her life 
during, say, the last two or three years; by 'general circumstances' 
I mean particularly the relations existing between herself and her 
husband or other persons with whom she was in frequent contact. 
It needs but little imagination for me to understand that it would 
give you pain to show such letters to anyone else, and most of all 
to deliver them to someone intending, if their contents made it 
seem expedient, to expose them to the always distasteful and some- 
times hideous publicity of the law-courts. That, however, is what 
I am bluntly asking you to do, if there are any such letters in your 
possession. I ask it, of course, not as a favour to myself; but be- 
cause I think you know that, however mechanical and even cynical 
we lawyers appear to most laymen, some of us at least are inspired 
and governed in our work by the belief that all truth matters and 
truth is all that does matter. To you I need not enlarge on that. I 
feel certain that you will understand why I make, to you, what 
might seem to others a preposterous request with hardly any diffi- 
dence at all. 

If you have no such letters you may yet know of other rela- 
tives or friends who are likely to have them . . . 

That worried Rajonond at least as much as Sture had supposed. 
Private sensibilities— well^ those of course must be sacrificed: the man 
was right in saying that only truth mattered. But truth on how accurate 
a scale? Timorous and mentally rheumatic, Raymond could never have 
disentangled his own ideas, but he realized in a dull, intuitive fashion 
that they differed from Sture's. He knew a little about lawyers — he had 
eaten his Dinners before turning over to medicine — and he did not ques- 
tion the high integrity of such a one as old Sture himself. But was it 
not ultimately an error to assume, as lawyers were bound to do, that it 
is possible to dissect any situation into propositions which can all be 
labelled 'true' or 'false'. "A struck B": that might be a demonstrable 
truth; but "A intended to kill B" — was such a statement, which a 
lawyer would use as a girder in his framework, so simple in nature that 



414 



its absolute truth could ever be accepted? In the field of motive the 
fragments of which truth was made were never all to hand. Was it 
better to have a few of them discovered out of their proper place and 
disguised from lying in an unfamiliar soil, than to have none at all? 

Nice fellow, Sture: and a first-rate mind, as Raymond had often 
told his friends (liking to boast of some connection with such a man). 
And at bottom Raymond was frightened of first-rate minds. 

He put the letter aside, took the budget which Mrs Scobaird had 
sent him and went on reading where he had left off the night before. 
But he read now as if Sture were looking over his shoulder. He could 
see the man's face, beautifully kept, chin like a split plum, thin but 
kindly mouth, sparse brows, very light-blue eyes which never wandered 
but went to one point and rested there as the hand of a big clock does ; 
and he heard Sture's quiet, agreeable voice delivering compact sentences 
like one who ties up parcels with bits of string cut automatically to 
exactly the right length. ("Only a madman would lead Germany into 
war with the British Empire. No madman could have united Germany 
as this man Hitler has done. In my view there will be no war." "'She 
said it was impossible for her to meet her father again. I explained 
that her view of the nature of possibiHty was unrealistic") How would 
such a man, hearing no live voice, seeing no familiar eyes, interpret 
letters like these? And now, as he continued reading, he found himself 
searching for that face of Armorel's, those many faces: the grave, 
intent face of a child sitting with chin on knees at the end of a sofa in 
the Hayward's Heath drawing-room, the mischievous mouth of a school- 
girl who teased him about his bourgeois manners, the pallor and the 
numbed eyes of a young woman creeping into this room late on a Sep- 
tember evening, "Well, it's all over with Gordon. I suppose I should 
have known." Was it a fact, as he now imagined, that her voice had 
suddenly altered on that evening, or had it been changing a little ever 
since her mother's defection? Now and then he could hear the later 
voice in these sentences, but only in some of its moods; the note of 
weariness, seldom the warmth and sweetness which had made people 
turn their heads in a crowded room. But these words, he thought, are 
not for me; we have a separate dress to wear for each of our friends, 
dresses belonging partly to ourselves and partly to them: a complexity 
of disguises: and if all of them were put away, would one find a com- 
plete and integral being within? He went on doggedly, irked by his own 
dullness, fascinated by the notion that someone or something was elud- 



415 



ing him. And at a late hour he was at work again, drowsily, often read- 
ing only with his eyes while his thoughts, warmed and perplexed, turned 
towards old familiarities, like people wandering through a village they 
lived in many years before: to the bashful smirk of Gian coming to 
meet him at the tram stop with a minute Tonie holding his hand; a 
strange, impassioned kiss that Rellie had once pressed into his cheek 
while they stood by the trumpery coat-stand in the spotless front pas- 
sage at Mickett Lane. It was quiet now, the servants had gone to bed, 
the telephone would not ring again. There was pleasure of a kind, 
besides the pain, in rummaging through all the refuse of his mind, 
glistening trifles he had once treasured, scraps of forgotten clothes, 
while hand and eyes moved like a goods train along the uniform script, 
page after page, reading and hunting, constantly ruling the neat, red 
lines. 

^ . . that Tonie did not after all go to Apostles' Court that afternoon, 
she and Michael were with the Bensons who are quite nice people. 
But why didn't she tell me beforehand?! I have explained to her now, 
and I think she understands, that what I dislike is secretiveness — I have 
seen something of the harm secretiveness can do. I think she does 
understand, when she thinks about it, that she can confide in me about 
everything. And really — though of course I shouldn't dream of saying 
so — she would be wiser to make me her everyday confidant rather than 
Gian, because Gian, with all his goodwill and affection, cannot possibly 
understand the problems and dangers that a young girl has to face. 
For example, he can never see why I don't want Tonie to go to 
Apostles' Court, and I think he fancies that I have some prejudice 
against that institution which makes me resent the amount of time he 
gives to it. I haven't! Although it does take up a very great deal of 
time that he might otherwise devote to study or to his home, I think it's 
a good thing that he should have a hobby which interests him. Only 
I feel — and it's so hard to explain this to him — that he ought not to 
accept all the burdens that well-intentioned people like Trevon Grist 
are always ready to put on the willing horse's back. Now that he is an 
older man I think that Trevon is wonderfully improved in character — 
not at all in health, poor man — he is a far more responsible person than 
in the days when we were developing Hollysian House together. But he 
still has — at times — a certain furtiveness about him which makes one 
just a bit wary in accepting anything he says. I do like people to be 

416 



open in all their dealings — half the trouble in the world, I sometimes 
think, comes from people being secretive . . .' 

'. . . a remarkable address from Joseph Vandeaar on "Obscurantism 
Today." A brilliant analysis of the logical stages by which theism leads 
to strife and injury (based on the Bibhcal aphorism, "Not to send 
peace, but a sword"). The theme he developed most strikingly was 
that the human mind has a normal tendency to deceive and that theism 
provides a convenient cover for any and every deception — the 'Be- 
liever' can always maintain that he has been transcendentally truthful 
(meaning that he has, to put it rather crudely, squared his Theos) and 
that a plain statement to beings of his own kind is therefore super- 
fluous. We sang an anthem by Moff, the young rationalist poet — I 
didn't think it so very good but I suppose some people who have not 
been trained in mental exertion find relief in that sort of thing after 
a fairly stiff period of concentration. 

Tt was rather ironical that shortly after I got home Tonie came 
and asked me if I had any objection to her undergoing the rites of 
Baptism and Confirmation. (I wonder if you remember you and me 
being done at Hilda Abbess's? I felt fearfully uplifted and pious for at 
least four hours afterwards, especially as the whole party had chocolate 
cake in Pidgie's drawing-room!) Well, of course I told Tonie that she 
could do exactly what she liked — it would be dead against all my 
principles to interfere with a child's opinions, she must settle things 
for herself, make her own mistakes, and find her own way towards 
maturity of outlook. I did, however, venture to ask who had put the 
idea into her head, to which she replied that it was her own idea, and 
only b}^ degrees did she let it out that a clergyman called (appro- 
priately!) Squirelle had been on to her. A friend of Trevon Grist's, as 
I might have guessed — poor Trevon cultivates slightly furtive clergy- 
men as others go in for guinea-pigs or ferrets! I asked Gian If he had 
known anything about it and he was fearfully abashed, and went into a 
most complicated, rambling explanation (for which I had not asked!). 
I am not sure that his influence hasn't been stronger than this Squirelle 's 
even — it's no use my trying to explain to Gian the view every sensible 
person holds nowadays that children must be left to develop their own 
philosophies. I've tried, but it's a kind of reasoning that's quite beyond 
him, poor man — his notions of parental duty are all hall-marked 1SS7I 

'So be it! But, oh dear, I do wish all these people would be open 



417 



with me! Why, why all this concealment, all this subterfuge and back- 
stairs manoeuvring and deception! I try to make this a good home 
for them, it is their friends, not mine, who come here (and whom I 
work for) — is it really quite fair that I should be left in a corner while 
they are amusing themselves with little plots and schemes? / don't hide 
anything — what have I to hide? If there is one thing I loathe it's 
secretiveness. 

'It's been very hot. I'd rather like to get away, but of course we 
can't afford that kind of thing if Tonie is to complete her education as 
I wish. And I couldn't really leave the house, it would be filthy by the 
time we got back, in London everything's covered with dirt five minutes 
after you've cleaned it. Whatever happens I am not going to have this 
house a pigsty. I had enough of pigsty-living in Contessa Street. I 
really ought to get the dresser moved so that I can wash the kitchen 
walls all over . . .' 

^ . . absolutely determined not to let it alter my behaviour towards 
any of them in any way. 

'The day will come when Tonie will turn to me for guidance. I'm 
prepared to wait for that — patience is not a virtue I've had no practice 
in! In the meantime she will have to go the way she wishes — I'm dead 
against interference with young people's lives — and if it proves to be 
a painful progress that will at least deepen our understanding of each 
other when the time comes when she ceases to accept without question 
the views of those who want her to think that her mother is an enemy. 
For the time being she will have these others to guide her, and the fact 
that I do not agree with the guidance they give will not alter my be- 
haviour towards any of them in any way. 

T feel certain that her father, at least, would not deliberately exert 
any bad influence upon her so long as he is satisfied that he has got 
her away from mine. He was no ill-will at all towards Tonie herself. In 
fact, we go on behaving as if he had none towards me. I have got used 
to things, and though I have never learnt to admire secretiveness, and 
I still rather hate all the scheming and plotting that goes on, I find it 
quite easy to accept everything calmly. That's the great thing about 
cultivating one's pure reason — ^you learn to rely on it when everything 
else deserts you. Of course I have to be watchful, because he is being 
driven on by one man's influence all the time, and when a man gets to 
a certain state the sight of someone who keeps her mind absolutely 

418 



clear and unprejudiced is like a red rag to a bull. But I am absolutely 
determined not to let it alter my behaviour in any way. 

"We had a party for my birthday, not really a party, just ourselves 
with Papa Simon and Trevon etc: and of course old Olleroyd. Tonie 
had made a cake and actually got 38 tiny candles on to it, she made 
me sit in the chair that Georgie always used to sit in at Cromer's Ride 
and they all gave three cheers for me. Do you know, it's terribly silly, 
but I got rather a crying fit, I suppose it was because it all made me 
think of the old days, Weald Street and before that even — I never really 
wanted to leave Weald Street, it was Gian's idea entirely. It really was 
just as if nothing had ever altered, Gian and all of them were being so 
sweet to me. They wouldn't let me do any of the washing-up, Tonie 
and Elizabeth did it, I just sat there cosily and the men were smoking 
like chimneys and they were rather shy in a queer, nice way, they kept 
on asking if I was perfectly comfortable, and then they started making 
the sort of jokes they always enjoyed in the Hollysian House days. Of 
course I wasn't in that much, but I loved hearing them all guffawing 
and being happy. They had some sort of argument over that old knife 
we keep over the mantelpiece, Trevon said he v/anted to borrow it for 
some reason, and Gian said it was still sharp and he would only hurt 
himself, and then Simon started up about the knife belonging to him, 
which is a favourite old idea of his. I said that in any case no one was 
to move it, because I specially value it. (I don't believe in being senti- 
mental about things, certainly not about bits of bric-a-brac, but this 
old knife has particular associations which give it what I call historical 
value, and I think it has a special use in reminding Gian — who in spite 
of everything has a strong streak of sentimentality — of certain things 
that he owes to me.) Anyway the dispute ended in a great deal of laugh- 
ing and cheeriohing and everything was so happy, and I didn't feel in 
the least bit lonely. I think I shall remember it all my life, it was so 
like the old days and I felt so perfectly happy. 

'The weather has been very thundery. I am sensitive to thunder 
and I know when there's any about even if it's a long distance away, 
possibly in another continent. I think Tonie ought to have a new 
mackintosh, I could give her the money only she might not spend it all 
and then they would want her not to tell me. She has learnt to be very 
secretive. 

T have had to write this in rather a hurry because someone may 
come in at any moment, you're never alone here. I've got a bit of a head 



419 



because the weather has been very thundery, but it doesn't alter my 
behaviour in any way. Gian keeps pretending that he isn't hostile to 
me, as a rule he has himself under perfect control and he isn't at all 
dangerous so long as I watch him carefully and keep him from coming 
under the influence of particular people who would like to use him 
against me for their own ends. 

'I am sorry to have written all this in such a hurry, but I have got 
to move the furniture and get up the linoleum in the front room, I am 
perfectly certain there's thick dirt underneath it. Of course nobody else 
minds, so I'm going to do it all by myself, and then I've got to take 
down all the pictures in the bedroom and give them a proper cleaning, 
and wash the lamp shade as well . . .' 

Before he went to bed (at three o'clock in the morning) Raymond 
had written an answer to Sture. 

My dear Lionel : 

Many thanks for your note. I understand perfectly that one's 
appetite for privacies must not prevent one from surrendering 
anything that might be useful in such a case as this. And I should 
most gladly help you if I could. Unfortunately I have kept none 
of Armorel's letters, which have never contained anything but trivi- 
alities of the kind reserved for the amusement of elderly relatives; 
and I know of no one else at all hkely to provide what you are 
looking for. I do not think she ever went in for a regular or intimate 
correspondence. I am so sorry. 

There was a small error in your letter to the Times which ap- 
peared on the 4th of last month. It was Goss whom Tom King 
beat on the loth (not 12th) December 1863. He had, of course, 
already beaten Mace in the previous year (thus winning his belt). 
A very small slip and entirely pardonable (except when made by a 
lawyer). 

Yours ever, 

Raymond C.H. 



420 



32 



% 



AN K- YOU," said Tonie to the helpful stranger, "it's extremely 
kind of you, but if you don't mind I'd really rather cross the road by 
myself. I find it interesting, when you take it calmly — my mother has 
taught me. You see, I always come home from school by myself now. 
Mother said I could when I was eleven — she's got all sorts of sensible 
views— and that was at least a month ago." 

In the weeks which followed Empire's death and her father's 
arrest, Tonie was doing things by herself a great deal, as a matter 
of principle. In play hours at school she often forgot her resolution, 
and behaved for a time as she had done in earlier days; then she 
remembered and broke away from any party she was engaged in. "I 
think it would be best," she had told Marigold Oliver, "if you didn't 
speak to me too much. Till Daddy's been acquitted, I mean. Of course 
they haven't put me in Coventry or anything — Anne Harvey says Miss 
Ella's told everyone they're not to — only I'm under a cloud just the 
same as if I was in Coventry, and you might get under it too. Of 
course there's no harm in your saying 'Good-morning' to me and things 
like that — you can say that sort of thing to an absolute criminal and 
no one thinks it makes you into one yourself." And she had not been 
persuaded by kind Miss Ella, in an earnest little talk, to alter this view. 

With head and shoulders very straight she crossed the road in her 
careful, scientific way and went towards home, wishing she could get 
there without going through Weald Street itself. At Miss Jamieson's, 
people's manners were extremely reliable and if you decided to behave 
in a special way people more-or-less realized at once what you were 
doing. Some of the Weald Street children were slower to understand, 
and it was of great importance — Mummie had always said — not to look 
as if you thought yourself better than them. So she couldn't walk 
along Weald Street in a stand-offy way, but if she looked as cheerful 
and friendly as usual they would think she didn't mind about Dadd}' 
being in prison waiting to be tried, and if she wore a shamefaced look 
they'd think he really had done what the Sunday papers said. Last week 
Tommie Ede, simply from his sense of fun, had been swinging one 
of his sister's dolls with a piece of string tied round its neck, shouting, 
"Oy! Look what they're goin' to do wiv Tonie's dad!" and she had 
been hard put to pretend that she didn't understand what he meant. 

Today, however, most of the children were occupied with a rag- 



421 



and-bone cart pulled by a moulting donkey and hardly anyone noticed 
her. Only Alice Derby came across the road and mumbled, hardly dar- 
ing to lift her eyes, "Ever s'sorry, Tonie — it's a cryin' shame an' that's 
what all of us say!" With a smile which fitted like a new dental plate 
Tonie answered, "Oh, thank-you awfully! It's gorgeous weather, isn't 
it!" and hurried on (hoping it didn't look rude) to get inside the house. 

Standing quite still in the passage she could hear the voice of Mrs 
Eustace in the kitchen going on and on like a fretful baby's, oc- 
casionally punctuated by Daise's "Well, I d'know, Mrs Eustace, reely 
I don't." From upstairs the murmur of Brodie lecturing Mr Olleroyd 
flowed with the sweet monotony of plainsong, breaking now and again 
into a fountain of laughter. She went into the front room, which was 
empty, closing the door very softly behind her ; pitched her satchel onto 
a chair, herself face-down on the sofa and deliberately cried. 

She had not finished crying when Daise came in, so quietly that 
Tonie first knew of her presence by the scorched smell which always 
went with her. She said, with her face still in the cushion: 

"I'm busy — go away!" 

"Well, now, what ever are you cryin' for, Tonie?" 

Since pretence was useless, Tonie cleaned her face as well as it 
could be done with a cushion and turned round. 

"I don't see why I can't have any peace!" 

"It don't look like peace to me, what you been havin'!" 

"Oh, stow your guts, bitch-face!" 

"Now you know your mum won't have you talk that way! What'll 
she say when she see that cushion all like that!" 

"It ain't all like that!" 

"An' you ain't allowed to say 'ain't' neither, you know that." 

"I'll say what I fuming well like." 

She was seriously angry with Daise: Daise standing and sniffing 
there with her eyes all watery and swollen, with paths down her cheeks, 
and making all this fuss because she, Tonie, had chosen of her own 
accord to cry for a minute or two in the same way as you sneezed or 
rubbed the sleep out of your eyes. It was people like Daise, snivelling 
for no reason at all, who made the whole business of crying soppy and 
stupid. 

"What's Mrs Eustace going on about?" she demanded. 

"She says she's going to lose her home and won't have anywhere 
to go." 

422 



"She's crackers! She's been saying that ever since I was born. 
Where's Mum?" 

"She's busy." 

Tonie pushed past Daise into the passage and called "Mum-mie" 
but got no answer. 

"You do better leave her alone," Daise said. "She's goin' through 
boxes 'n' things." 

"My mother isn't your property!" 

"No, but I do her the best I can." 

Everything Tonie knew about Daise was in that answer; and she 
suddenly remembered that Daise's own father was not in prison but 
dead. She turned and faced her again. Something had to be said, and 
because she had not enough experience to weigh the possible effect of 
words they came to her easily. 

"Do you think it would make you feel better," she asked soberly, 
"if the judge said it was Daddy who did it and then he was— you 
know?" It was a little difficult to finish, but she managed it. "I can't 
hope that — you do see? — only I'm sure I'd mind a bit less if it was nice 
for you. So would Daddy, I'm absolutely positive." 

But Daise had no such readiness in speech. She did not start to 
weep again as Tonie for a moment feared (that happened much later), 
she stood like a waxen image which has begun to melt in the heat, her 
repulsive mouth half-open, horror-struck and helpless. Tonie took her 
by the shoulders- — she and Daise were of almost equal height — held her 
tightly and kissed her on the eyes and forehead. Then she left her and 
went upstairs. 

As she reached the landing Olleroyd came out of his and Brodie's 
room, followed by Brodie's derisive laughter. He stood miserably with 
his back to the door. 

"What's the matter, Ollie?" 

"Saying I don't try to find work!" he answered, jerking his head. 

"And he wouldn't recognize it if he did!" came Brodie's voice. 

"Saying I only got m'self to blame if I find m'self put out in the 
street." 

"But, Ollie, nobody's going to put you out in the street! You 
must know by now, Brodie just goes on talking to keep his mouth warm 
while he's thinking of something to say." 

She gave him her smile, but today it would not penetrate the haze 
of gloom which encircled him and she went on rather sadly up to the 
attic. 



423 



Mum had pulled out the old packing-case from under Gordon's 
bed. She was sitting on the floor in her dustcap and overall, with papers 
and what looked like account books spread all round her. She said: 

"Oh, is that you, Tonie? Do you want something?" 

"No, not really. I've just got back." 

"Oh. Have you washed your face and hands? No, you haven't. 
Ask Daise to give you some hot water out of the kettle — I don't sup- 
pose she's gone yet." 

Tonie went downstairs again, washed in the kitchen and returned 
to the front room. With Wilson's Empire History for Junior Forms open 
on her knee she began to think of an animal — rather like a small 
monkey but with wings — which could be taught to do all Mum's work. 
She would keep it hidden (with Brodie perhaps?) till it was fully 
trained, and then one day when Mum was just starting to do this room 
she would walk in and say casually, "You just sit down, Mummie, Joe's 
going to do it" — no — "Tonietto's going to do it. Tonietto — on it, boy!" 
Tonietto would have cloths and dusters and a small broom with a 
telescopic handle in a httle satchel on his back. With one bound he 
would leap to the window and rush up and down, polishing with five 
million strokes a second. For a time Mum would be quite speechless. 
Then, with her eyes shining like those of the lady in the Kleeno-kwik 
advertisement, she would say in a sort-of hushed voice, "Tonie, my 
darling, was it really you who trained him to do all this?" 

"You'll have to wait a few minutes for your tea," Mum said, taking 
off her dustcap as she came in, "I've had to send Mrs Eustace to get 
some more milk." She stood kissing the tip of a middle finger, with the 
smile which Tonie knew had nothing to do with pleasure, looking 
quickly about for things that were slightly wrong, a chair cover or a 
doormat pushed out of position. 

"Have you got much prep?" she asked distractedly. 

Tonie slid Tonietto into the wings of her mind; he would perform 
for her another time. 

"Only three sections of this. We would have had geog, only Miss 
Leecey's gone to look after her sick mother or something, and Miss 
Wyre forgot to set us any, thank goodness." 

Armoral shifted one of the pictures and stood back to see if it was 
straight. 

"But, darling, is that awfully sensible? I mean, you can't learn a 
thing you never work at by yourself." 



424 



"But, Mummie, the prep you get for geog is nearly always doing 
maps, and I just can't do them." 

Looking out the window, Armorel caught a glimpse of the army 
hut where Lower Middle had done their prep at Hilda Abbess's; the 
ugly stove, the smell of geraniums coming in at the open window. 

"I never could either," she said, and turned and sat down. "Only 
you don't really look at maps until you've got to draw them yourself, 
and you can't learn where places are until you do study them. Some 
day you'll go abroad and you'll want to know where you're going." 

"But then all you've got to do is to get on the right ship. Grand- 
father's been to all sorts of places, and I'm certain if you showed him 
a map he wouldn't even know what it was." 

"Oh, darling, don't be silly!" 

"I'm absolutely positive he wouldn't! If you showed him a map 
of Africa he'd say 'Eh, look how they got the likeness of my ole girl!' " 

She was thinking, 'Mummie couldn't draw maps either! Mummie 
couldn't draw maps either — she's said she couldn't! ' and the whole, dull 
day had brightened. She came to the back of her mother's chair, leant 
over and planted a moist kiss on her neck. 

"Darling, you mustn't talk — what's that for?" 

"For being bad at maps. Oh, Mummie, I didn't think you'd ever 
been bad at anything!" 

A Httle awkwardly, Armorel leant back, took the hand that was 
on her shoulder and brought it to her mouth. She tried to laugh, but 
that was not quite possible for a woman with the weight of so tiring 
a day on her forehead. "Precious!" she managed to say, wishing for an 
instant that she had the natural use of such a word, wishing almost to 
be a professional gusher like Edie's friend Mrs Forcres. And then: 
"You do see, don't you, why you've got to work at these things! I want 
you to be ever &o much better than I was, I want you to go much fur- 
ther. And you see, you won't have any money to start you off, you've 
got to do it all on your brains." 

Tonie said: "H-h! Where do you think I'll go abroad to?" 

"Oh, darling, I've no idea. You may not go at all." 

"Then all the geog would be just wasted." She w^as sitting on the 
floor now with her head against her mother's knees. "Somewhere like 
Australia, do you think?" 

"Well, you never know." 

"Where do you want to go?" 



425 



"I don't know — I'm too busy to think of going to places." 

"But you must have wanted to sometimes." 

"Well, Greece. I've always wanted to go to Greece." 

"You mean, where the Greeks used to be?" 

"Yes." 

"Then we'll all go. When I leave school I'll go and work in 
Stevenson's until I've got about thirty pounds. Then I'll get the tickets, 
and then I'll come to you one morning and I'll just say, 'Mummie, stop 
doing whatever you are doing and start to pack. The taxi will be here 
at ten o'clock.' " 

"Oh, Tonie, that will be lovely! Where shall we sail from?" 

"From Blackfriars Bridge. And then when we get to Greece we'll 
stay somewhere and in the morning I'll say, 'Now, Mummie, you've 
got the whole day to rout about and find the fossils or mummies or what- 
ever it is of the Greeks. Here are some sandwiches and I'll have tea 
ready at 4.30 and by then everything will be dusted.' " 

"Lovely, darling." 

This chair was not too comfortable, but it was curiously resting to 
feel Tonic's head against her knees, to have Tonic's eager voice playing 
about her like a cool wind. Swiftly, like the moods of April, the day's 
grimy and neuralgic weariness had changed to tiredness of another 
kind, bringing a faint aroma from other days' endings, the comfortable 
ache of back and legs beside Miss Ewing's fire late in the winter term, 
fields heavy and aromatic with summer moving drowsily past the Bal- 
combe brake on the return journey up Cuckfield hill; easy voices, 
people who understood without your explaining, the sense of an un- 
broken circle. 

"... and as soon as I've done the dusting and all that I'll hire 
a pony, like Audrey Stewart's only grey and with a very long mane — 
do they have ponies in Greece? I suppose so — and I'll ride all round the 
country hunting for little native boys, all the ones that never wash and 
never get their clothes mended and the ones who've gone slightly 
crackers, and I'll round them all up and Daddy can make them into a 
club." 

Armorel said, "Oh, then Daddy's coming too?" 

"Well, of course!" 

"You don't — you think he could leave his wo